backpacking trips east coast

15 Epic Hikes On The East Coast USA To Add To Your Bucket List

By: Author Robyn Robledo

Posted on Last updated: March 2, 2024

Every year I say, “This is the year we will finally make it to the East Coast!” but it never happens.  We’ve become so obsessed with sharp jagged mountains and hikes to alpine lakes that every summer we end up getting stuck playing in the Rockies or flying to the Pyrenees.  So to help boost my motivation to get to the East Coast, I’ve asked some fellow bloggers what their favorite epic hikes are on the East Coast of the U.S. and added the ones that are on my bucket list to help fuel our motivation to get out east and to hopefully inspire your wanderlust.

2023 Update: We have officially made it to the East Coast and this blog has been updated with a few more of our favorite picks for East Coast hiking!

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Here are 12 adventurous hikes that you should check out on the East Coast.  Let us know in the comments if you’ve done one or if there is another one we should add to this list.

Best Hikes on the East Coast in Maine

1 | precipice, orange and black and champlain north ridge trail loop , acadia np.

          View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by Jess Curren | Outdoor & Travel (@currentlywandering) on Sep 11, 2018 at 7:36am PDT

Distance: 2.1 Mile Loop Elevation Gain : 1,059 feet Trailhead : Precipice Trailhead Coordinates

Did you say a hike with iron rungs and ladders, plus some boulder scrambling? I’m in!  And it’s in a National Park?  Pinch me, I’m dreaming!

I seriously don’t know what’s taking me so long to get to Maine! Our family loves national parks and adrenaline-filled hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park so naturally this short and scary 2 miler in Acadia would be right up our alley.

Note that this trail is closed between March 15 and August 15 due to falcon nesting and you don’t want to do this if it is raining.  Also, leave the hiking sticks in the car because you’ll want both hands ready for this one.  

While in Acacia, make sure to check out James @ Parks Collecting’s favorite hike, The Beehive as well as 3 other hikes he recommends in Acadia NP.

2 | The Beehive , Acadia NP

Beehive Trail Acadia, Best East Coast Hikes

Distance: 1.6 miles round trip Elevation gain : 520 feet Trailhead : Beehive Trailhead Coordinates

The Beehive Trail is an epic hike because of the many technical aspects. It is named after the classic beehive shape of the cliff.

It’s not a long hike, but parts of the steep sides of the ‘hive’ are cliffs that have iron rungs permanently installed that you need to climb.  This, combined with narrow ledges with steep drop-offs, make this a bad choice for the faint-hearted, but a great choice for adrenaline junkies.

beehive hike east coast hikes

That being said, I did see families do this with careful supervision. At the top, hikers are rewarded with spectacular views of Sand Beach and Great Head Peninsula. If you want the view without the technical hike, there is an easy path up the back of the cliff – the Bowl Trail (but the technical aspects of the hike are half the fun!)

Best place to grab a bite or beer after The classic place to relax in Acadia National Park is the Jordan Pond House ( get directions here ).  You have the try the delicious popovers – a local specialty kind of like a light muffin, served with butter and jam.  The perfect way to unwind after your hike up the Beehive.

Thanks for the Inspo James! Click here to see easier hikes in Acadia NP that James recommends.

Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

If you have little ones you are traveling with, Kelly at Wikebaby recommends doing Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail .

3 | Katahdin Dudley, Knife Edge, Saddle Trail Loop , Baxter State Park

Knife's Edge Trail in Baxter State Park, Maine, Eastern USA

Distance: 4.0 miles Elevation Gain: 2,624 feet Trailhead: Katahdin Trailhead Coordinates

With some sections bordering on technical climbing , it will help to harness your inner mountain goat spirit to complete the Knife’s Edge. As the name implies, the Knife Edge section is narrow and exposed, plus, the descent involves a steep scree slope and more scrambling over boulders.  Be careful doing this hike in windy conditions and not in the rain. 

There are other longer ways to access the Knife’s Edge such as via The Hunt Trail .

4 | The Mahoosuc Notch via North Pond Rd to AT , Appalachian Trail

Distance: 9.0 mile loop Elevation Gain: 2,559 feet Trailhead: Notch Trailhead Coordinates

While I have no desire at this point in my life to take on the challenging and tedious Appalachian Trail, the famous one-mile   of Mahoosuc Notch, which is said the be the toughest mile on the AT, sounds very exciting.

This one section of the AT requires climbing over boulders and scrambling through tight spaces so people with claustrophobia may want to skip this one.   After, there looks like some fun cliff jumping and swimming nearby at Frenchman’s Hole.

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Best Hikes on the East Coast in New York

New York is high up there on our bucket list. While a day or two strolling through Central Park and eating in New York City sounds nice, it’s the mountains of New York that are calling our name. With all the epic hiking in the Adirondacks and Catskills mountains, not to mention climbing the Gunks, it’s crazy that we haven’t checked this state off the bucket list yet.

5 | Avalanche Pass and Avalanche Lake Trail , Adirondack Mountains

Avalanche Lake in Adirondacks New York, Hikes on the East Coasat

Distance: 10 miles Elevation Gain: 1,335 feet Trailhead: Avalanche Pass + Lake Coordinates

This is another strenuous hike that also requires climbing along ladders and bridges that are bolted directly into the cliff walls surrounding a lake.  If this one sounds a bit adrenaline-packed, there are other ways to take in the gorgeous views of Avalanche Lake that start from the same trailhead.

6 | Devil’s Path , Catskill Mountains

Devil's Trail in Catskills, Northeast USA hikes

Distance: 21.8 miles (although you can shorten it and do just one-half) Elevation Gain: 8,172 feet Trailhead: Start Devil’s Path Here on the east side on Prediger Trail Head Road

Know for being one of the most difficult of its kind in the northeast U.S., this one is for bragging rights! While there are a variety of ways to hike Devil’s Path, we’ve got our eyes on the eastern half which takes you over 4 of the Catskill’s 3500 peaks – Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, and Plateau . The strenuous ascent and descent over each pass reminds me of our epic backpacking trip through the Maroon Bell’s Four Pass Loop .

Check out TheOutbound for a thorough description of how to backpack Devil’s Path.

7 | Kaaterskill Falls , Catskills

Kaaterskill Falls, best hikes east coast, New York

Distance : 1.4 miles roundtrip  Elevation  Gain: 620 feet gain Trailhead : Laurel House Road

Kaaterskill Falls, recommended by Taima of Poor In A Private Plane, is located in the eastern Catskill Mountains of New York. This is an excellent hike in New York for those looking for a moderately easy hike with big returns. 

As one of the tallest two-tiered waterfalls in New York, with a 260-foot drop, it offers a fantastic view of the falls, which gives the opportunity to view the falls from two different perspectives. 

Because the hike to Kaaterskill Falls is relatively short but rewarding, it provides a perfect mixture of accessibility and adventure, so it is excellent for all skill levels, including children.

The hike’s highlight is the observation platform, where you can feel the falls’ mist and hear the thundering water. As you stand there, surrounded by the immense beauty of the forest and the falls, it’s easy to see why this spot is epic. 

From there, you can continue to either the upper or lower parts of the falls or extend your hike and do both. 

After your hike, consider stopping by the nearby town of Tannersville for a bite. Last Chance is a great spot to warm up with a cup of their french onion soup or their homemade macaroni and cheese. 

Kaaterskill Falls is an excellent hike to visit during a weekend trip to the Catskills or even on a day trip to nearby Hunter Mountain.

8 | Breakneck Ridge Hike , Hudson Valley

Breakneck Ridge in Hudson Valley, Hikes on the east coast

Distance: 3.7 miles Elevation Gain: 1400 ft Trailhead : Breakneck Ridge Coordinates

Looking for gorgeous views closer to New York City? Head to Hudson Valley to Breakneck Ridge, which our friends Katherine and Anisa at Two Traveling Texans highly recommend.

Breakneck Ridge is one of the best areas to hike in the Hudson Valley.  It’s easy to get to NYC (there is a direct train there on the weekends) and the views of the Hudson River are spectacular.

There are several different routes you can take, but the most popular one is to take the Breakneck Ridge (marked in white), then turn left on the red trail (Breakneck Bypass), and then another left on the yellow trail (Wilkinson Memorial), which will lead you back to the train.

Breakneck Ridge in Hudson Valley, Northeast USA hikes and scrambles

The first part of the hike is the most challenging.  You gain most of the elevation in the first mile so at times it’s a bit of a scramble.  Don’t worry though, there are several spots to stop and take in the panoramic views. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment once I had completed the hike and the views were worth the struggle!  

It’s probably best to bring along a picnic lunch or at least some snacks as there are no facilities along the trail.  Afterward, if you want to celebrate your climb, the town of Cold Springs is 2 miles away or it’s just an hour and a half on the train back to Grand Central Station in NYC.

Need a gift idea for the hiker in your life? Check out our latest Gift Guide for Hikers

9 | Labyrinth & the Lemon Squeeze , Mohonk Preserve

Mohonk Labyrinth and the Lemon Squeeze, Shawgunks, hikes in New York

Distance: 1 mile loop Elevation Gain: 291 feet Trailhead: Park here (but it will cost ya)

While in the Hudson Valley, check out one of the less risky scramble hikes. This route will force you to squeeze, duck, crawl, and climb class 3 across The Labyrinth, then take the ladders up “the lemon squeeze” to 360-degree views of 6 states!

Mohonk Labyrinth and the Lemon Squeeze, Shawgunks, New York, Hikes on the east coast

This hike starts from a historic resort, Mohonk Mountain House, and is well-marked. The downside is that it cost $22 per person although there are supposedly other places you can start the hike from and pay less.

Click to get the trail details.

10 | Gothics via Lower and Upper Wolfjaw Mountains, Adirondacks

Gothics Mountain in Adirondacks, Northeast US hikes

Distance: 15.2 miles Elevation Gain: 5,065 feet Trailhead: Start at ADK Trailhead

While in the Adirondacks, you might want to conquer Gothic Mountain, which requires cables to the summit. This full-day hike will reward you with 360-degree views and the pride in conquering not one, but four 46ers! Sounds epic to me!

Best Hikes on the East Coast in New Hampshire

11 | mount lafayette and franconia ridge trail , white mountain np.

          View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by New Hampshire Photos 📷 (@newhampshire_igers) on Jun 28, 2019 at 4:53am PDT

Distance: 7.8 mile loop Elevation Gain: 3,776 feet Trailhead: Lafayette Place Parking Area

With the best views of New England, this three-peak traverse is considered “strenuous and nerve-wracking.” Hiking along the ‘knife-edge’ between Mount Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette is sure to be a moment you’ll never forget.

12 | Table Rock , Dixville Notch State Park

Table Rock Overlook, New Hampshire, best hikes east coast

Distance: 1.5 miles round trip Elevation Gain: 770 feet Trailhead: Table Rock Trail Head

Table Rock Trail, located in Dixville Notch State Park in northeast New Hampshire, is a moderately steep hike up to an absolutely stunning viewpoint shared by Stephanie of USA Adventurer.

After hiking through the woods, you’ll reach the summit, which is on a rather narrow, craggly rock with sheer sides and dropoffs. 

The summit overlooks Lake Gloriette, which is surrounded by tree-filled hills. This hike is incredible anytime, but is just insane during fall time when the trees are filled with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. I’d highly recommend coming for sunset, when the evening glow is shining on the lake and the hills and you can even watch the sun drop behind the horizon. 

While the view from the top is clearly superior, I do think it’s worth stopping at the pullout spots right by the lake – the views from the bottom are also really gorgeous! 

This is a can’t-miss stop on a New England fall foliage road trip.

Best Hikes on the East Coast in Virginia

While this hike is a bit of a detour from the hikes above, I had to throw it in because it just looks so fun! If your travels take you to Virginia and you love challenging hikes that test your fitness, you’ll want to check out Old Rag Mountain.

13 | Old Rag Mountain , Shenandoah National Park

Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, hikes in Vermont

Distance: 8.6 mile loop  Elevation Gain: 2,417 feet Trailhead: Old Rag Parking lot 

With about a mile of boulder scrambling, extremely steep switchbacks, and plenty of false summits, this is one of those strenuous hikes that will test your fitness level as well as your bravery. Get an early start because the scramble section gets crowded.

East Coast Road Trip

Best Hikes on the East Coast in Tennessee

Not exactly sure what area is officially considered the “East Coast” however we don’t think this blog is complete without mention of Tennessee, home of the most visited National Park in America: Great Smoky Mountains.

14 | Mount LeConte via Bullhead Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mount LeConte via Bullhead Trail

Distance: 14.5-mile loop Elevation Gain: 3,913 feet Trailhead: Rainbow Falls Trailhead

Known as the 3rd highest peak in the Smokies and near bustling Gatlinburg, Mount LeConte is both a prominent peak and a popular peak. Crowds are a common concern around here, but not if you hike the secluded route up via the Bullhead Trail. The Bullhead Trail approaches LeConte’s from the Northwest side and chances are, you’ll only run into a couple of other hikers, if any.

The views at the top are vast and expansive and though the trail is already a long day hike, it’s worth the extra half-mile detour to Myrtle Point where the views are much clearer than the High Top summit.

15 | Clingmans Dome, Smoky Mountains National Park

Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Distance: 1.3 miles roundtrip out and back Elevation Gain: 337 feet Trailhead: Clingmans Dome Trailhead

Kristen Czudak of Yonderlust Ramblings shares the Clingmans Dome Trail  as one of the top East Coast hikes, both literally and figuratively.  It is the highest point in the entire state of Tennessee, as well as the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the entire Appalachian Trail.

Though it is a shorter hike, the Clingmans Dome Trail packs in a lot in just over 1 mile, with stellar panoramas overlooking the Smoky Mountains, a surprisingly challenging uphill grade that gets your heart pumping, trail intersections with the iconic Appalachian Trail, and a stunning viewing platform at the summit for unobstructed, 360-degree views!  

As an added bonus to hiking Clingmans Dome, there are dozens of additional hikes in the surrounding area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as picnic areas, Visitor Centers, and the nearby bustling towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, both full of attractions, lodging, and dining.

Wait! Before you go, find out your ADVENTURE Style 👇👇

backpacking trips east coast

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Tuesday 8th of October 2019

Great suggestions! Only comment is that the image for Beehive is not a picture from the Beehive hike, I live in New England and have done Beehive multiple times. Just want to be sure you are accurately displaying the trails mentioned above!

Wednesday 3rd of November 2021

Oh whoops, we'll update that as soon as we can!

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Best Backpacking Trips in the Eastern U.S.

Best Backpacking Trips in the Eastern U.S.

So far, we've covered just about every major area of the U.S. in our “Best of” round-up posts. With natural beauty galore and a little bit of everything ranging from green mountains to lush valleys, sandy beaches to swampland, we couldn't leave out the eastern U.S.! After all, many of the states along the eastern seaboard house sections of one of, if not the, most popular long-distance trails in the country: The Appalachian Trail. And, believe it or not, the most visited national park in our system is the Great Smoky Mountains, spanning between southeastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.

Whether you're looking for a quick weekend getaway or a week or month of solitude, our list has something for backpackers of all levels. So, pull up a chair and read on to find inspiration for your next great backpacking adventure in the eastern U.S.!

Featured Photo: Presidential Range (Photo by Chris M Morris )

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are known as one of the most scenic (and difficult) areas along the Appalachian Trail. For a taste of what they have to offer, take a 3-day hike on the Pemi Loop. This challenging 31-mile loop affords some of the best views of these mountains and the Presidential Range with perhaps one of the best lookouts on Mt.Liberty early on in your journey. The trail also affords the opportunity to summit 8 of the 48 “4,000 footer” mountains of NH and has plenty of spur trails along the way to climb even more on the list. You can find out even more about this trail in our full article .

Virginia Triple Crown

McAffee Knob

Want to hit up some of the most remarkable spots in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in one fell swoop? Then simply head out on what is touted as the state's “ Triple Crown Loop”. This is the perfect long weekend trip as it is about 32 miles in length and can be done in just a few days. You'll hit up the aptly named Dragon's Tooth rock formation, traverse Tinker Cliffs, and witness one of the best vistas east of the Rockies at McAfee Knob. In fact, the latter is said to be the most photographed spot along the AT, and for good reason! If all of that sounds enticing, read our  full write-up on the Triple Crown Loop .

While you're in the area, don't miss out on visiting the equally stunning Shenandoah NP too!

Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Who says you have to choose between mountains or sea when it comes to hiking? If you're up for a long-distance trek, the new Mountains-to-Sea Trail may be just what you're looking for. This 1,175-mile journey begins near the popular Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains NP and runs across just about every kind of terrain you can think of in North Carolina, from stream-filled forests to farmland to coastal swamps. You'll end the trail with a bang too atop the “tallest sand dune on the east coast”. It is worth noting that the trail is still a work-in-progress, so you should look for detours and re-routes before your visit.

Bartram Trail

The more you get into backpacking, the more long-distance trails you discover. The Bartram Trail, located in western Georgia and North Carolina, is one such trail that is still relatively unknown. In fact, it has been voted as the best long-distance trail for solitude by Backpacker Magazine readers. This makes it the perfect location for some relaxation in nature in the wooded Southeast. The trail is long enough that detailed information can be found for each state's respective section. The Georgia section is perfect for hikers of all skill levels, with the most rigorous part being the climb up Rabun Bald. The trail also passes numerous waterfalls, creeks, and scenic gaps. Check out our full write-up for more information on this section.  

Mt.Sterling Loop

Hike of the Week: North Sterling Loop

No list of the best hikes in the eastern U.S. would be complete without at least one of the awesome trips in the Great Smoky Mountains. With its breathtaking views, it's not surprising why Mt.Sterling is one of the most popular spots for day hikers and backpackers alike to visit. The gurgling streams, shady forest, and waterfalls make the strenuous climb more bearable. 

This is another great weekend trip at around 17-miles altogether, easily making it a 2 or 3-day trip. Keep in mind it's popularity, though. Be sure to get your campsite reservations as far in advance as you can.

Grafton Notch Loop

The eastern seaboard can be a busy place with all of the major cities along its coast, but you can't beat the remoteness of northern Maine when you're looking for some time away from all of the hustle and bustle. Not only is there the infamous 100-Mile Wilderness section of the AT, but many other shorter backpacking trips, including the Grafton Notch Loop. This relatively new trail, located in the Mahoosuc Mountains, takes you across 39 miles of crest lines, affording amazing views of the surrounding range and even into the Presidential Range next door in New Hampshire. All of this dispersed with walks through thick woods past babbling brooks and small waterfalls makes for an unforgettable time on the trail.

Art Loeb Trail

The Art Loeb Trail, located in the well-known Pisgah National Forest, is yet another great backpacking adventure brought to you by the state of North Carolina. This 30-mile, 4-day trek will take you up some steep inclines to be rewarded with top-notch views. Be sure to bring your wayfinding skills and sense of adventure as some areas of the trail are not marked well, if at all. Other than the scenic views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and beautiful wildflower meadows, extend your trip by heading up Cold Mountain. Head over to the full write-up for more information on this challenging trail.

Presidential Traverse

If the Pemi Loop isn't enough of a challenge for you, traversing the entire Presidential Range should be! If you're not familiar with the area, don't let the short distance fool you. (The hike is only 26-miles in length.) This area of the White Mountains is arguably one of the most difficult and unpredictable hiking areas east of the Rockies. Mt.Washington's science center has recorded the second-lowest temperature on record for the entire world! In other words, don't underestimate this trail. Only the most experienced hikers should attempt this hike and even then you only have a short window in the summer months to do so. However, the forested lowlands and panoramic views atop the peaks can't be beat.

Mount Marcy, Mount Skylight + Gray Peak Loop

The Adirondack Mountains, located in the northeast corner of New York, are arguably one of the most scenic (and overlooked) natural areas in the eastern U.S. One of the most popular hikes, especially if you're looking for a challenge, is trekking the Mount Marcy, Mount Skylight, and Gray Peak Loop. If bagging three of the state's 46 High Peaks in one day, including the highest point of Mt.Marcy at 5,344 feet, isn't enough, there are several lakes, streams, and waterfalls along the way, including the origin of the Hudson River. Bonus: Camping options abound, from a traditional campground near Marcy Dam to lean-tos and designated sites along the trail.

Whether you're looking for a quick, weekend getaway to the mountains or a cross-state adventure, our eastern states have plenty of backpacking trails for hikers of all skill levels.

Have you hiked any of the trails on our list? What is your favorite East Coast trail? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

If you're looking for more hike ideas, read some of our other guides filled to the brim with amazing hikes throughout the country.

Best Backpacking Trips in the Midwest Best Backpacking Trips in the Rocky Mountains Best Backpacking Trips on the West Coast Best West Coast Mountain Backpacking Trips Best Backpacking Trips in the Desert Southwest Best Spring Break Backpacking Trips Best Winter Backpacking Trips Top 8 Family-Friendly Backpacking Trips in the U.S. Top 10 Long Weekend Backpacking Trips

For even more amazing backpacking trips visit   The Trailhead, our interactive hike map . It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed writeup that contains everything you need to know.

The Trailhead - Interactive Map of Backpacking Trips

Finally, check out our   comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our   Backpacking 101 section  covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our   Expert Articles .

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10 of The Best Hikes On The East Coast USA

  • by Jonny Duncan
  • July 21, 2023 July 21, 2023

The east coast of the U.S.A. has some stunning areas of natural beauty to hike and these are 10 of the best hikes on the east coast that you can do.

They offer a diverse range of hiking opportunities, from rugged mountains and scenic coastal trails to picturesque forests and waterfalls.

If you love hiking and are on, or visiting, the east coast U.S.A., then some of these are must-do hikes.

Best Hikes On The East Coast

1. appalachian trail (multiple states).

Best hikes on the East Coast, trees in mountains.

Spanning over 2,190 miles, the Appalachian Trail is one of the most famous long-distance hikes in the world. It traverses through 14 states, from Georgia to Maine, offering breathtaking views, challenging terrain, and a true wilderness experience.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a remarkable experience that provides hikers with unforgettable memories and a deep connection with nature and is one of the best hikes on the east coast.

2. Franconia Ridge Loop (New Hampshire)

backpacking trips east coast

Located in the White Mountains, this 8.9-mile loop hike offers stunning views of the surrounding peaks, including Mount Lafayette and Mount Lincoln and traverses a section of the Appalachian Trail.

The exposed ridge offers panoramic vistas and is especially popular during the fall foliage season. However, it’s considered a challenging hike due to its steep ascents and exposed ridgelines.

It’s also a popular hike, so starting early will help you beat the crowds and find parking at the trailhead before you start your hike.

3. Old Rag Mountain (Virginia)

Best hikes on the East Coast, mountain crag.

Old Rag is a challenging 9-mile loop hike in Shenandoah National Park. It features rocky scrambles, beautiful vistas, and a rewarding summit experience. The hike is known for its great views of the Virginia countryside.

It offers a thrilling and challenging hike and unique rock formations. The hike involves rock scrambling and is not recommended for beginners or those with a fear of heights.

If you’re up for the adventure, it’s a must-visit destination in Virginia for hikers.

4. Mount Katahdin (Maine)

Mountain by a lake.

As the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Mount Katahdin offers a challenging and rewarding hike.

The Knife Edge trail is a famous section that connects Baxter Peak to Pamola Peak, giving breathtaking views along a narrow ridge and is easily one of the best hikes on the east coast.

The Helon Taylor Trail is an alternative route to the summit of Mount Katahdin, offers excellent views and avoids the exposed sections of the Knife Edge.

5. Breakneck Ridge (New York)

A short drive from New York City, Breakneck Ridge is a steep hike with panoramic views of the Hudson River. The 3.7-mile loop trail is known for its challenging rock scrambles and rewarding vistas.

The Wilkinson Memorial Trail is an easier alternative to the Breakneck Ridge Trail. It is still a moderate hike but is less steep and rocky, making it more suitable if you’re looking for a less intense experience while still enjoying beautiful views.

Although one of the shorter hikes on this list it’s great for the views.

6. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

backpacking trips east coast

Shenandoah National Park has a variety of hiking trails that traverse the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, where some of the best hikes on the east coast can be found. Some of these hikes in Shenandoah National Park are the Hawksbill Summit, Old Rag Mountain, and Whiteoak Canyon, which features stunning waterfalls.

The Old Rag Mountain hike is one of the best ones to do (as mentioned above) and can be challenging in parts with some rock scrambling but you get great views from the summit.

Hawksbill Mountain has the tallest peak in the park and is a good one to do to get to the summit for epic views.

7. Mount Washington (New Hampshire)

backpacking trips east coast

Known for its extreme weather conditions, Mount Washington offers challenging hikes and incredible views. The Tuckerman Ravine trail is a popular choice, providing a steep and strenuous ascent to the summit.

The Lion Head Trail is a good alternative to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, as it is less steep and more sheltered from harsh weather conditions. It joins the Tuckerman Ravine Trail near the Lion Head rock formation, providing you with a safer option during bad weather.

There are other trails in the area that you can do but the two mentioned above are the best for hiking up to Mount Washington.

8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee/North Carolina)

backpacking trips east coast

The Great Smoky Mountains offer a multitude of hiking options and some of the best hikes on the east coast.

The Alum Cave Trail, Charlies Bunion, and the Appalachian Trail through the park are all popular choices, showcasing the park’s diverse ecosystems.

The Alum Cave Trail takes you to the Alum Cave Bluffs and offers stunning views along the way while the Laurel Falls Trail takes you to one of the park’s best waterfalls.

The Ramsey Cascades Trail gives you views of some of the old-growth forests and the tallest waterfall in the park.

9. Acadia National Park (Maine)

backpacking trips east coast

Acadia National Park features a variety of stunning hikes with ocean views, rocky cliffs, and forested trails and has some of the best hikes on the east coast. It’s a popular destination for a reason!

Some of the best hikes in Acadia National Park include the Precipice Trail, Jordan Pond Path, and Cadillac Mountain Summit Loop.

The Precipice Trail is one of the harder ones to do as it involves climbing iron rungs and ladders along the cliffs.

If you want a more easy trail, especially if you’re with children, then do the Jordan Path Trail which is moderate and has great views of the mountains.

10. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

backpacking trips east coast

While not traditionally considered an East Coast destination, Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers beautiful hiking trails.

The Ledges Trail, Brandywine Gorge Trail, and the Towpath Trail are some popular choices and some of the best hikes on the east coast.

The Ledges Trail takes you through sandstone cliffs while the Brandywine Trail takes you to one of the national park’s best waterfalls.

Best Hikes on The East Coast

The east coast offers some stunning places for hiking and out of these 10 best hikes on the east coast, you’re sure to find one (and more) that you will love.

For more on travel on the east coast U.S.A. take a look at my article on the 10 best national parks on the east coast to visit .

Also for more hiking in the U.S.A. take a look at the 10 best hikes in the Midwest .

I recommend using  SafetyWing Travel Insurance  for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

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Best Backpacking on the East Coast

The East Coast is the home of some of the most beautiful landscapes and picturesque mountains. From the rugged peaks of New Hampshire to the rocky coastline to Maine, the scenic views are pure delight. If you are looking for babbling streams, deciduous forests, and breathtaking trails, check our recommendations below for the best backpacking on the East Coast . And if you are looking for proper gear on your next outdoor adventure, check here for the best deals on sleeping bags, tents, pads, and everything you might need on such a trip.

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The Long Trail, Vermont

While the East Coast features unpredictable weather conditions and diverse terrain, it can be quite challenging to pick the best place for camping or sightseeing. Vermont is a place that offers thousands of acres of mountain terrain, beautiful towns, rolling hills, and amazing views. It’s a popular place among locals and other states’ tourists throughout the year. 

The ultimate Backpacking Trail to do in Vermont is the Long Trail . It is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the US and is where Benton Mackaye, the man who came up with the idea of the Appalachian Trail, was inspired to create the AT atop Stratton Mountain in southern Vermont.

And what makes this place so special are the mountains and the small population. It’s a place where you’ll find peace, solitude, and relaxation. If you are an animal person and you bring your dog on every hike, Vermont is the right choice for you. You can enjoy a 6-mile round trip up to the Camel’s Hump and enjoy the views from atop Mount Mansfield. The Log Trail traverses both of those epic mountains.

The best time of the year to visit Vermont is probably the fall when amazing sceneries will take your breath away. However, all year round is available and in the winter period, you can go snowboarding or skiing.

backpacking trips east coast

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Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is a national treasure. It’s an hour from Washington D.C. and it’s every hiker’s ultimate dream. Scenic trails, cascading waterfalls, and historical landmarks are located in this park. Its road of 105 miles features around 70 scenic views. There’s a variety of wildlife, old forests, and a lot of trails where you’ll see cemeteries, settlements, and structures. It’s affordable for hikers of all abilities, family trips, history lovers, and solitude seekers.

You can enjoy a hike up the Hawksbill Mountain, drive along the Skyline Drive, hike around Rapidan camp which was once a presidential camp, and enjoy a sunrise hike to the top of Bearfence Mountain. The best time of the year to visit the park is spring. And summer probably, but bear in mind, this period is the busiest throughout the year. 

The Beehive, Acadia

The Beehive trail is the best one yet. It’s named after the classic beehive shape of the cliff and with its steep sides of the cliff, it’s the ultimate trail for experienced hikers. Combined with the narrow ledges, the trail is not recommended for those weak of heart and those scared by heights. However, it’s the best choice for adrenaline seekers.

You can even see families taking the courage to hike and conquer this beast. And later being rewarded with the amazing views of the Great Head Peninsula and the Sand Beach. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of hiking all the way up through the narrow-shaped cliff, there’s an easier path. The Bowl trail is a more appropriate path and easier to hike on. But, hey, we all have our type of fun!

backpacking trips east coast

Katahdin Dudley, Knife Edge, Baxter State Park, Saddle Trail Loop

All of these hiking trails are part of your technical climbing to complete the Knife’s Edge. the Knife’s Edge is a narrow and exposed section with a steep scree slope and large boulders. We do not recommend taking a hike in windy weather conditions, and not in the rain because it might be dangerous. The Hunt trail is a longer path to access the Knife’s Edge, so you can decide which path you’ll take.

Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains are located from northern Georgia to southern Pennsylvania. If you go on this hike, you’ll enjoy 615 miles of pure beauty. These mountains are decorated with expansive views, cascading waterfalls, and hardwood forests. Whether you are an experienced hiker or you are looking for a new adventure as a novice, the Blue Ridge’s trail has something for everybody. 

You can enjoy a challenging hike to the top of Mountain Mitchell, take a guided backpacking trip to Shining Rock Wilderness and go for a scenic drive along the parkway. The best time of the year to visit the mountains in summer, fall, and spring. Summer is usually crowded, so you might want to organize your trip in the fall or spring period . And since the temperatures do not usually drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you can go winter hiking as well. And enjoy the great scenery. The hiking choices are limitless, yours is to decide what type of hike you prefer!

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13 best hikes on the east coast to add to your bucket list.

There are endless hiking opportunities along the east side of the US, with landscapes of rolling hills, rugged cliffs, forests, rivers, and waterfalls.

This side of the country has it all. Hiking has always been one of my passions when traveling, and while I didn’t get the chance to do the Appalachian Trail while visiting the country (trust me when I say it’s on my bucket list!), I did do a few smaller walks to get a glimpse of that beauty.

I just wish I was more prepared!

To give you the opportunity to plan ahead, I asked other outdoor lovers about their favorite hikes on the East Coast.

I know that I got inspired to go back to do more hiking, so let’s have a look at the best hikes on the East Coast so you can do it too!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase through one of those links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Best hikes on the East Coast

Table of Contents

Best hikes on the East Coast

Appalacian trail.

Recommended by Alice of Adventures of Alice

  • Length of hike : 2190-miles/3524 km
  • Hiking time: Depends on which part and ranges from 2 hours to 5/7 months to complete the entire trail
  • Trail start and end: It starts in Georgia’s Springer Mountain and ends at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. However, you can join the train in different sections all over 14 states in passing through.
  • Type of hike: Linear

A trail to rival all others, the Appalachian Trail is a feat only those with an iron will can accomplish. Spanning four states and 2,190 miles of backcountry America in its entirety from Georgia’s Springer Mountain up through Maine’s Mount Katahdin.

The trail passes through 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee (you know what they say about the South), Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (30 miles from the Big Apple), Connecticut, Massachusetts (don’t forget to visit!), Vermont, and last but not least Maine.

If you’re looking to see some of the East Coast’s most beautiful landscape, there is no better way than to hike the Appalachian Trail.

The trail runs through several gorgeous state parks with thick forests full of wildlife and beautiful lakeside vistas that go on for miles. You can start up in Greenwood Lake right down near Bear Mountain State Park then take your hike all the way into Connecticut if you’re feeling really adventurous.

If you’re  spending some time in New York , then it’s not too far of a ride from Grand Central Terminal on the Harlem Line. There are all sorts of trails at different lengths to choose from.

The shorter ones can range between 2 miles up to around 10-15 depending on how hard you want it or what type of scenery you like most. Longer trips could be as much as 90 miles long if you’re adventurous enough for such an endeavor!

However, the Appalachian Trail covers a lot more than New York. A few of the other highlights in other states include Dragon’s Tooth viewpoint in Virginia, The Pinnacle in Pennsylvania, Baldpate in Maine, and many more spectacular views along the entire 2190-mile trail.

If you opt for the entire hike, make sure you plan it well and don’t lack anything on your Appalachian Trail gear list , so you don’t run out of supplies.

Hikes on the East Coast

Old Rag Mountain Loop, VA

Recommended by Sumeeta of Sumeeta Seeks

  • Length of hike : 9.5 mi/15.3 km
  • Hiking time: 5-7 hrs
  • Trail start and end: State Route 600, Etlan, Virginia
  • Type of hike: Circular

Old Rag Mountain Loop is the most famous hike in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and those who have traversed it know why.

This hike is not for the faint of heart and requires a fair bit of ascent and technical scrambling over boulders to make it to the summit. But the reward for all that effort is jaw-dropping 360 degree views of the Shenandoah Valley.

The loop is a nice change of pace from other popular hikes on the East Coast due to the diversity it offers – it begins as a more traditional hike with a gradual incline. Then you come upon the boulders which can be intimidating until you get the hang of them, followed by the stunning summit.

Finally, you’ll have a very mellow stroll down an old fire road back to the parking lot. So once you reach the summit, you can rest assured that the hard part is over.

The parking lot is located at State Route 600 in Etlan, Virginia. It’s a very popular hike and the lot fills up quickly, so be sure to go early in the morning to snag a spot.

Even better, go on a weekday if you can for easier parking and fewer people on the trail. Be sure to bring at least 2 liters of water and plenty of snacks.

Despite the difficulty and the crowds, Old Rag definitely lives up to the hype and is one of the best hikes on the East Coast for sure. You’ll not be disappointed!

Hiking on the East Coast - Old Rag Mountain loop

West Rim Trail, PA

Recommended by Samantha of PA on Pause

  • Length of hike : 30.5 miles/49.1 km
  • Hiking time: 2-3 days
  • Trail start and end: North trailhead in Ansonia, PA to South trailhead near Blackwell, PA

For a two to three-day backpacking trip, consider heading to the West Rim Trail at the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. Over 30 miles in north central PA, there is plenty of elevation change to keep things interesting. Plenty of campsites can be found all along the trail, making this a manageable overnight hike for most.

The trail features spectacular views of the 1,000 feet deep Pine Creek Gorge, also known as the PA Grand Canyon. The northern stretch of this trail, in particular, has many impressive vistas which makes it one of the best backpacking routes the East Coast has to offer.

As this hike is linear, if you are coming from out of town or do not have access to two vehicles for this hike, contact Pine Creek Outfitters. Located just a short distance from the Ansonia trailhead, they offer both shuttle and car delivery services along the trail.

Hiking in either direction is possible, but beginning at the south trailhead and proceeding north is the typical route.

The West Rim Trail can be hiked at any time of year, but fall is the best time to visit the PA Grand Canyon and take in the beautiful colors, despite larger crowds.

Winter access can be tricky due to snow and ice, so plan and prepare accordingly. Spring and summer lay out lush greenery, but can sometimes be overgrown and insects can be an annoyance.

Views of the Pine Creek Gorge from the West Rim Trail in Pennsylvania - A stunning East Coast Hiking Trail


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Fires Creek Falls Trails, NC

Recommended by Paula of Paula Pins the Planet

  • Length of hike : 7.6 miles / 12 km
  • Hiking time: 3-4 hours
  • Trail start and end: Fires Creek Recreation Area, part of the Nantahala National Forest, in Hayesville, NC. 
  • Type of hike: Loop

The United States is a paradise for outdoor lovers, with a large variety of areas to go hiking. If you’re looking for great hiking on the East Coast, the  Smoky Mountains offer some of the best hikes  in the country.

The Smoky Mountains National Park is situated between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, and it’s the most visited national park in the United States for a reason. It is also one of the most epic national parks to visit in winter .

With over 150 hiking trails to choose from in a large variety of difficulty levels, you can find a hiking trail for everyone and there’s no wonder why it’s on so many people’s USA bucket list .

Among the hidden gems are the Fires Creek Falls Trails. This area offers a number of excellent hikes opportunities, with different trails to choose from. The main trail is a loop of 7.6 miles, with great views of the forest and waterfalls, and it’s also dog-friendly. This area is very rocky, and you can see a variety of drops and cascades along this beautiful hike.  

If you decided to venture on a longer hike in this area, the Fires Creek Rim Trail is 25 miles (40 km) long, and pretty much a loop. It starts at the Fires Creek Picnic Area and ends just up the road.

First, it follows the Valley River Mountains, and then it crosses a bridge connecting the Valley River Mountains to the Tusquitee Mountains, following the Tusquitee Mountains for the rest of its route.

Situated in one of the most epic national parks on the East Coast , there is no doubt this is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Smokey Mountains .

Fires Creek Falls is one of the best places to hike on the East Coast

More hikes in North Carolina: Best waterfall hikes near Brevard

Great Channels, VA

Recommended by Erin of Go Hike Virginia

  • Length of hike : 6.6 miles/10.6 km
  • Hiking time: 4-5 hours
  • Trail start and end: Channels Natural Area Preserve 

In Southwest Virginia, the 6.6-mile round-trip hike to the  Great Channels of Virginia  along the Brumley Mountain Trail at Channels Natural Area Preserve is a stunner, leading hikers to a breathtaking 20-acre maze of sandstone slot canyons.

Take it slow as you make your way to the slot canyons or you may miss one of the most fantastic viewpoints in Virginia. At the 3.0-mile mark, a hidden overlook lies tucked behind rocks and brush. Make your way out onto gigantic rocks to savor wide-open views of Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s two tallest peaks.

Continue on, walking just under a massive fire tower, to reach the quizzical slot canyons. Plan to duck, squeeze, climb and crawl with child-like curiosity as you explore this sand-floored labyrinth atop Clinch Mountain within Channels State Forest.

This other-worldly sandstone maze was allegedly created by ice wedging and permafrost 10,000 years ago, much to the delight of present-day visitors.

A word to the wise. Leave a backpack or water bottle at the entrance to the slot canyons as a marker to help you find your way out when you’re ready to return to your car. It’s incredibly easy to get turned around inside these mysterious and fascinating slot canyons. There is no doubt this is one of the best East Coast hikes!

Great Channels-one of the best East Coast Hikes

Maryland Heights Overlook trail, WV

Recommended by Jordan of The Solo Life

  • Length of hike : 4.5 miles/7.2 km
  • Trail start and end: Maryland information center

One of the most underrated and best hikes on the East Coast with a spectacular vista as payout is the Maryland Heights Overlook Trail, located across from  Harpers Ferry , West Virginia.

Technically located in Maryland, this trail is found at the junction of three states, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, and two rivers, the Shenandoah and Potomac.

The main attraction of this hike is the stunning overlook at the top, which offers views of both rivers as well as Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The hike and view become even more gorgeous during the fall, when the foliage puts on a show.

Parking is sparse at the start of the trail, so the best choice is to park across the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and walk across the pedestrian bridge to access the trail. This also allows for the opportunity to explore Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which has ties to the Civil War, the Niagara Movement, and the Appalachian Trail.

For a moderately challenging hike with a rewarding view at the end, the Maryland Heights Overlook Trail is a hike not to be missed.

Maryland Heights

Mount Marcy, NY

Recommended by Mark & Kristen of Where are those Morgans?

  • Length of hike : 14.8 miles/23.8 km
  • Hiking time: 7-11 hours
  • Trail start and end: Adirondack Loj parking lot / Van Hoevenberg Trail (start and end)
  • Type of hike: Linear return

Mount Marcy is the highest of High Peaks in New York’s ultra-popular hiking arena: the mighty Adirondack Mountains and without a doubt one of the best hikes in New York State . 

Located just 10 miles south of “miracle-on-ice” Winter Olympic host village Lake Placid, Adirondack Loj parking lot and the Van Hoevenberg trailhead await hikers’ arrival around 5am each morning.

Hiking to the top of New York’s tallest peak is a long and strenuous day, taking anywhere between 7-11 hours depending on hike pace and stops taken. 

But a stunning rolling hills landscape as far as the eye can see in all directions is more than worth the effort. On a clear day, views stretch as far as Montreal’s skyscrapers and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Mount Marcy’s Van Hoevenberg trail  is a slow and gradual hike through dense forest and alongside gushing creeks. However, the last mile is completely open and exposed to harsh elements. Strong winds, rain, snow and ice are common outside of Summer months, requiring careful consideration.

Indian Falls waterfall marks the only real landmark of note along the Mt Marcy hike, located around the halfway point.

Summiting Mount Marcy is not just about far-reaching views, it’s a tough hike and a real accomplishment to stand on top of the highest point in New York. 

Now there’s just the 7.9 mile descent to contend with!

Best hiking trails East Coast - Mount Marcy Summit

Three Ridges Loop, VA

Recommended by Cecilia & Scott of Lovicarious

  • Length of hike : 14 miles/22.5 km
  • Hiking time: 6-7 hours
  • Trail start and end: Reed’s Gap trailhead

Three Ridges Loop  is a popular backpacking circuit along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The white-blazed Appalachian trail follows along the mountain crest offering three gorgeous vistas. At the same time, the blue-blazed Mau-Har Trail parallels Campbell Creek with several small waterfalls and natural pools.

Although the entire circuit can be completed in one day, many choose to divide the trail into two days with an overnight stay at one of the many dispersed campsites or Appalachian Trail shelters.

For some of the best backcountry camping along the east coast, set up camp along the scenic Mau-Har trail where the gentle sounds of the creek will lull you to sleep.

The Reed’s Gap trailhead is located about 30 minutes south of Charlottesville along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The parking lot is quite small so it’s recommended to arrive as early as possible. Head downhill along Beach Grove Rd. where you will see the trailhead for Three Ridges on the right.

Best East Coast Hikes - Three Ridges

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Lemon Squeeze, NY

Recommended by Taima of Poor in a Private Plane

  • Length of hike : 5 miles/ 8 km
  • Trail start and end: Mohonk Preserve Gatehouse

Located on the Mohonk Preserve in the Hudson Valley, NY, Lemon Squeeze is a fun and challenging hike for all ages. 

Unless you are a guest at the Mohonk House the best way to access this hike is to start at the Mohonk Preserve Gatehouse.

The hike starts and ends at the Mohonk Preserve Gatehouse and is approximately 5 miles roundtrip. Once inside the gatehouse, you will be given a map with directions. Follow directions for the Labyrinth, Lemonsqueeze. The first couple miles of the hike are pretty standard the fun begins as soon as you see the Mohonk House.

Continue to follow along until you reach the Labyrinth. This is the highlight of this hike. A 1-mile rock scramble that will have you twisting, turning, climbing, and crawling under rocks and finally squeezing through two boulders until you reach the Sky Top Terrace. 

The views from Sky Top are incredible so if you have friends or family that want to meet you up there and avoid the scramble there is an alternate route. 

Fees for this hike start at $22 per person but is a great thing to add to your list if you’re visiting the Hudson Valley .

Lemon Squeeze hike

Bear Den Mountain, NY

Recommended by Maddy of Madelyne on the Move

  • Hiking time: 2-3 hours
  • Trail start and end: Bear Den trailhead from the Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort

The Bear Den Mountain hike located in Wilmington, NY (just 15 minutes from downtown Lake Placid) is a must if you’re in the area.

The easiest way to access the trailhead is from the Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort, which is conveniently located right around the corner from the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA. The campground has RV sites, tent sites, and cabins if you’re interested in camping in the area.

The trail starts along a river, but you’ll spend most of the hike in the woods. Incredibly rewarding views at the end make this hike worth the effort.

After gaining 1,300 ft. of elevation, you’ll reach a rock outcropping that offers sweeping views of the Adirondacks.

If you’re there during the spring or summer, you’ll see the mountains covered in beautifully lush trees. If you’re there during fall or winter, you’ll see stunning fall colors or snow capped mountains.

While you can’t go wrong visiting the Adirondacks anytime of year, the incredible fall foliage is just one of many  reasons to visit the Adirondacks . 

Bear Den Mountain

Babel Tower, NC

Recommended by Anna of PaddlingSpace

  • Length of hike : 1.3 miles/2.1 km
  • Hiking time: 2 hours
  • Trail start and end: Starts on Old NC 105 and ends where it intersects the Linville Gorge Trail

The Linville Gorge is located in the mountains of North Carolina and contains some of the toughest hiking in the state. It’s known as the grand canyon of the east because of the steep canyon walls plunging down to the Linville River.

The Babel Tower hike begins right off of Old NC 105 which is a gravel US Forest Service Road. The trail is only 1.3 miles but it quickly descends to the river and there is an elevation change of 843 ft within that short distance.

The rhododendrons and trees along this trail are beautiful and there are multiple overlooks of the gorge along the way down. Babel Tower runs into the Linville Gorge Trail where you can walk along the river and lounge on a boulder or take a dip.

This is the perfect trail to pack a picnic and your hammock to make a day trip out of it. The hike down doesn’t take long but the hike back out will likely take almost double the time.

There are beautiful wildflowers in spring and summer here and during the fall you won’t find a prettier spot to see the changing colors.

Linville River

Shark Valley Trail, FL

Recommended by Martin of Travel Explorator

  • Length of hike : 15.8 miles/25,4 km
  • Hiking time: 4-6 hours
  • Trail start and end: Shark Valley Visitor Center

Shark Valley Trail is a well-known trail in the Everglades National Park of Florida. To get there, you need to take the Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41) and reach the Shark Valley Visitor Center where you can start it.

The trail has a wide abundance of plant life and also offers a stunning view of wildlife. The Everglades national park is famous for its population of alligators that swim in the waters and are often found resting near the trails.

Apart from just gators, there are also various bird species that roam the park, plus turtles and fish. It’s 15.8 miles long and loops around.

Halfway through the trail, you’ll reach an observation tower that is 65 feet high and offers an incredible view of the green marsh surrounding the area. It’s a suitable trail for all hiking levels, and the views it offers make it so that anyone of any age can enjoy it.

Apart from hiking the trail, you can also bike it if that’s what you prefer. While you do need to pay an entrance fee ($15.00 if hiking or $30.00 per car) to enter the park, the views you’ll get here are well worth the cost since you won’t get them anywhere else. 

Shark Valley Trail

Gorge Trail, NY

Recommended by Neha of Travelmelodies 

  • Length of hike : 1.5 miles/2.4 km
  • Trail start and end: Starts at the Main Entrance and ends at the Upper Entrance

Watkins Glen State Park  is one of the parks on the East Coast famous for its stunning natural beauty. The best way to explore the park is by hiking the 1.5 miles Gorge trail.

The trail begins near the Visitor Center at the Main Entrance and traverses through the beautiful waterfalls and caves in the park. There are 19 waterfalls, bridges and tunnels spread along the park. These provide some amazing photo opportunities with stunning views of the gorge. Most of the trail route is made of stone steps or even muddy puddles. There are around 800 steps to climb along the trail.

Some of the iconic stops along the trail are – Cavern Cascades, Glen Cathedral, Central Cascade, and Rainbow Falls.  It is amazing to walk behind the Cavern Cascade and Rainbow waterfalls. Central Cascade is the highest waterfall with a plunge of more than 60 feet. The last point is the Jacob’s ladder that leads to the Upper entrance by climbing 180 steps.

Just standing and gazing at the water falling off, walking over the bridges, and passing through the tunnels, makes this trail unlike any other. Summer season is the busiest time for the trail and it is advised to start the hike early in the morning. The trail opens from around mid-May to October depending upon the weather.

 Pro Tip: Wear sturdy shoes as parts of the trail are wet and tend to get slippery. Note: There are no restrooms along the trail and pets are not allowed.

East Coast Hiking - Gorge Trail

Hiking on the East Coast reflections

I think we can all agree that there are some pretty amazing hikes on the East Coast for all levels. With so varied terrain, this part of the country is awesome for hiking. Whether you like waterfalls, breathtaking views, or scrambling, the best hiking trails on the East Coast have it all!

Make sure you always follow the leave no trace principles whenever you spend time in the outdoors. No matter if it’s a national park or not it’s important to respect the natural wonder we are so lucky to call Earth.

Happy hiking!

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Are you planning to travel the East Coast and want to incorporate some epic hikes? Here are some of the best hikes on the East Coast for the adventure traveler. Hiking the East Coast includes rivers, waterfalls, mountains

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If you’re new to backpacking, you may have a lot of questions , like what to pack , what to eat , and — most excitingly — where to go. In the US, you have dozens of beginner backpacking trips at your fingertips. Whether you want to plan an epic hiking vacation to your favorite national park or you want to hit the trails closer to home, you’ll have options.

When planning your first backpacking trip, you can either, 1) choose a trip within your comfort zone and go with family, friends, or a partner or 2) join a guided trip so you can learn new skills, develop friendships, and take on a more difficult challenge. Some people try to fit too much into their first backcountry trip and end up ditching the pack for good after their adventure is over. Or, they don’t set their sights high enough and end up underwhelmed, wondering why anyone would willingly lug 30 pounds of gear into the backcountry.

We know that if you’re backpacking, you want to escape the crowds, take in stunning views, and put in some effort. So, we want to help you plan a trip that will make you fall in love with the sport so that every time you dust off your backpack, a smile spreads across your face.  If you’re looking for inspiration for your first backpacking trip (or your second, third, or seventieth), we’ve compiled a list of 15 beginner-friendly backpacking trips and trails across the United States that will immerse you in wild environments and challenge you just the right amount.

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how to choose an appropriate trail

While each new backpacker is entering into the sport with a different set of skills and fitness levels, we’ve crafted a list of trips with all beginner backpackers in mind. These trips fit a few criteria:

  • You’ll hike relatively low-mileage for the length of the trip.
  • The trails don’t have extreme elevation gain for the region.
  • They travel on well-maintained trails and avoid tricky terrain like boulder fields. 
  • You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck, whether in the form of peaks, alpine lakes, or lush meadows.

However, backpacking is never easy (or else we’d never do it!) — so,  if you want to maximize your fun, be sure to train for your backpacking trip .

1. Point of Arches, Olympic National Park

backpacking trips east coast

Mileage: 8 miles out-and-back  | Length: 2 – 3 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 200 feet

Point of Arches is a perfect beginner backpacking destination on the edge of Olympic National Park, accessed via the Makah Reservation. You can hike this trail as an overnight, but if you have a third day to spare, you won’t be disappointed by the abundance of tidepools to explore and wildlife to observe. The sea-stack studded coastline is complemented by lush forests, which are home to banana slugs, Roosevelt elk, and black bears. Each night, as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean and you fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves, you’ll start scheming up your next trip.

Why is it great for a beginner?

This relatively-flat trail gives you quick access to a stunning beach environment, without much hard hiking or elevation gain. In fact, we offer this as a family-friendly trip option. You’ll get the pay-off of a bigger backpacking trip, but without all the work. So, pack a chair and relax on the beach as seals play in the coastal waters and eagles fly along the bluffs hunting for fish.

Unlike many beach destinations, the campsite near Point of Arches sits along a creek, so you don’t have to pack in water for your whole trip — just a water filtration device.

logistics and permits

You’ll need to secure two permits to make this trip a reality. First, you’ll need to pick up a Makah Recreation Pass ; it costs $10 and is good for an entire year. You can get one in Neah Bay at the marina, the general store, the mini-mart, and the tribal center, among other areas. Also, as this trail enters into Olympic National Park, you will need a Wilderness Camping Permit for any overnight stays in the park. Make sure you reserve this in advance. However, if you join a guided trip, we take care of all permits and reservations for you!

As of February 2021, this trail is closed due to COVID-19, as are many of the coastal areas of the park because they are on tribal lands. If you’re looking for an alternate route in Olympic National Park, the Seven Lakes Basin backpacking loop is a great — yet more difficult — alternative.

Guided Trip Options

Wildland Trekking offers this trip as a guided backpacking adventure package with expert guides, gear, meals, transportation and more all included! Click here to learn more!

2. Shining Rock Wilderness, North Carolina

shining rock wilderness

Mileage: 22 miles roundtrip | Length: 4 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,300 feet with backpacking packs (plus 1,700 ft with a day pack)

The Shining Rock Wilderness in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is one of the most spectacular East Coast backpacking destinations. The name comes from a unique geologic outcropping of quartzite rock that guards the summit of Shining Rock. Not only will these rocks dazzle you with their beauty, but they also provide a great perch to look out across the sweeping views of the surrounding peaks. On your trek, you’ll hike past cascading waterfalls and swimming holes that are perfect for a dip in the right season.

Relatively short-mileage days lead to exciting destinations. And while many beginner-friendly backpacking trails are packed with crowds, you can find mountain solitude in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Plus, a two-night backcountry basecamp lowers the number of miles you need to hike with a full pack. One of the hardest parts of backpacking is fine-tuning your pack packing routine, so you’ll appreciate the layover day when you get to leave your tent set up.

You don’t need to obtain a permit to backpack in Pisgah National Forest. However, due to the prevalence of black bears in the area, you must carry all your food and scented items in bear canisters .

This trail is in a wilderness area , so as with all backpacking trips, please leave no trace and minimize signs of human impact. We recommend first hiking in this area with a guiding company because the trails are not signed or blazed, unlike more popular destinations such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, if you do choose to backpack alone in this region, carry and map and compass so you can navigate the trails.

3. Golden Cathedral, Grand-Staircase, Utah

Wide angle Horizontal composition Golden Cathedral Neon Canyon Escalante National Park Utah

Mileage: 10 miles roundtrip | Length: 3 – 4 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 1.100 feet

The Golden Cathedral is a stunning display of geologic processes set in Neon Canyon. On this trip, you set up a basecamp along the Escalante River so you get to enjoy both the lush desert oasis and impressive slickrock features, like the pothole arch pictured above. While camping is not permitted in Golden Cathedral to protect the fragile environment, you’ll enjoy your sandstone surroundings as you explore the labyrinth of canyons during the days. Plus, southern Utah is known for its endlessly dark night skies. So as you peer out of your tent at night, be sure to gaze up between the canyon walls to see a smattering of stars.

This low-mileage trip is doable as a day hike, but spending the night between the narrow canyon walls in red rock country is quite the experience. You’ll carry a pack on the first and last day of your trip, setting up basecamp once you arrive in the canyon. Then, on your layover days, you’ll have time to explore slot canyons and washes without the weight of your pack. Unlike some desert hikes, this destination has plenty of water, so while you’ll need to stay hydrated, you won’t weigh your pack down with a trip’s worth of H20.

While this is a great first beginner backpacking trip with a guiding company, it can be a challenging trail to navigate on your own. However, if you plan to go solo, follow the cairns (piles of rocks) and keep your senses engaged so you don’t get lost. Don’t forget the map and compass!

Stop by a ranger station to obtain a free backcountry permit. Study up on desert leave no trace procedures, as this unique environment requires that you travel mindfully.

Also, check the forecast before you go because flash floods can be an incredible danger in canyon country. During certain times of the year, you may need to wade through thigh-deep water in the canyons. Bring along a pair of hiking sandals and trekking poles to make the journey more fun!

4. Tuolumne Meadows area, Yosemite

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Mileage: 20 miles roundtrip | Length: 3 – 4 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,300 feet with a pack ( + 1,700 as a day hike)

The Tuolumne region of Yosemite National Park is defined by expansive green meadows, dome-shaped mountains, and the pinnacle spires of the Cathedral Range. Water flows freely through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, where you can witness cascades tumbling down silver slabs of granite. On our Yosemite Alpine Meadows and Waterfalls Trek , you can see some of the best that it has to offer on a moderate trip.

Unlike the Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows has high-elevation trailheads with relatively flat relief landscapes and far fewer crowds. Water is plentiful and the views are outstanding. Up in Tuolumne, wildlife is less accustomed to humans, so you’ll have fewer concerns about a hungry bear sneaking into camp.

The campsite along this route (where you’ll stay for two nights) has treated water and solar-powered outhouses for ultimate backcountry comfort. Plus, unlike many areas in Yosemite National Park, you’ll have access to bear boxes at camp, so you won’t have to carry bear canisters which are heavy and inconvenient.

You’ll need to obtain a permit to stay overnight in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park. We recommend you reserve a permit in advance, however, some first-come-first-served permits are available if you visit the ranger station the morning before your intended trip. If you’re traveling during the weekends or holidays, don’t expect to get a last-minute permit.

5. Havasupai Garden, Grand Canyon

bright angel trail in the grand canyon

Mileage: 15 miles roundtrip | Length: 3 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,000 feet with a pack ( + 1.500 ft as a day hike)

Okay, no backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon is exact  beginner-friendly because of the nature of the terrain. However, if you’re set on hiking Arizona ‘s Grand Canyon for your first backpacking trip, the Havasupai Garden backpacking trip is a solid choice. Instead of backpacking to the bottom of the canyon, you’ll hike down the iconic Bright Angel Trail and stay at Havasupai Garden (a lush oasis with plenty of shade). The next day, you’ll hike down to the Colorado River without a big pack on your back. This three-day excursion allows you to experience the canyon beyond the rim — something not a lot of visitors can say. And as you enjoy dinner and panoramic views at Plateau Point, you’ll feel glad you put in the effort.

Havasupai Garden is a bit of an oasis, offering hikers more shade and water than other areas along the canyon. Potable water is available year-round to hikers. These qualities are important because heat and dehydration are two of the most dangerous factors for visitors. Additionally, this trail has less elevation gain and loss than other Grand Canyon trips. You’ll still get the expansive views and magic feelings that come along with an overnight stay in the Grand Canyon , without the knee-pounding descent to the bottom. Plus, this campground has toilets, so you don’t have to worry about properly burying or packing out your waste. 

You must reserve and obtain a permit to backpack in Grand Canyon National Park. Because of the popularity of this park, these permits can go quickly! A few permits for Corridor campgrounds (including Havasupai Garden) are available for walk-ups at the Backcountry Information Center in the park.

Just because the Havasupai Garden Campground is more accessible than many backcountry campsites doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. Anytime you’re hiking below the canyon rim, you need to carefully consider the conditions, your water capacity, and your fitness level. In the hot seasons, start early to avoid mid-day heat; this is an unforgiving climate and many hikers have died by setting out unprepared. Hiking with a guide can ensure that you have the tools you need to successfully backpack in the Grand Canyon .

6. White Mountain Hut to Hut, New Hampshire

A vista of the White Mountains of New Hampshire from the summit of Mount Washington, the hut at Lake of the Clouds on the ridge.

Mileage: 15 miles point-to-point | Length: 3 – 4 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,600 feet

Traversing an alpine ridgeline and staying at high mountain huts — you expect that in Europe, but not in the U.S., right? But in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, you can enjoy the luxury of backcountry accommodations with the adventure of the alpine. Similar to the popular Presidential Peaks Traverse but less daunting, the High Peaks of the Pemigewasset Hut to Hut Trek  offers the same appeal for a fraction of the difficulty. Staying along the Appalachian Trail (AT), you’ll bag peaks during the day and settle into cozy mountain huts at night. These trails offer a sense of camaraderie that is often hard to find when backpacking. As travelers from all over the world stay at the mountain huts, you’ll be able to chat about your hike over dinner.

On a hut-t0-hut trek , you’ll get to leave the tent and sleeping pad behind, shedding some of the heavy weight required for backpacking trips. If you’ve always wanted to spend the night in the backcountry, but aren’t ready to give up the luxuries of a bed, toilets, and running water, this will be a great introductory trip.

Also, you’re hiking above treeline for most of your trek, so the views per mile are exceptional. But, the terrain is a bit rougher than some of the other trails on this list.

Because this trek takes place primarily above the treeline, you should check the forecast , have good decision-making skills, and stay aware of thunderstorm conditions. The White Mountains are notorious for their erratic weather, so make sure to be prepared for some wild winds and weather.

You should book your stays in the AMC huts in advance. If you plan a point-to-point traverse, check out the shuttle system to ensure you can get back to your car at the end of your journey. The Appalachian Mountain Club strongly recommends reserving your shuttle; walk-ons are only accepted when space is available.

7. Lake Blanche, Wasatch Range, Salt Lake City

lake blanche in big cottonwood salt lake city

Mileage: 7 miles out-and-back | Length: 2 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,700 feet

Lake Blanche is a popular day hiking destination in Big Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake City. Those that pack a bag to spend the night near the lakeshore (well, 200 feet from the water’s edge) will be rewarded by dwindling crowds and dazzling alpenglow on Sundial Peak. As you approach the photogenic basin, keep an eye out for moose grazing on aspens. Once you’ve set up camp, hike the spur trail to explore Lake Florence and Lake Lillan.

This backpacking trip can be completed as a quick overnight, as it is incredibly accessible from Salt Lake City, Utah. While the trail has a fair amount of elevation gain, the low mileage (3.5 one-way) makes this trip achievable for most first-time backpackers. Once you set up camp, you’ll have access to water. Also, while solitude can be desirable, you probably won’t be alone if you camp near Lake Blanche. Some first-time backpackers may feel reassured at the presence of other humans.

You do not need any permits for this backpacking trip. Check out the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest backcountry regulations before you go.

However, no swimming or campfires are allowed. Respect the watershed and don’t wash your dishes in the lake.

All-inclusive Backpacking Adventures

8. Heart Lake and Mount Sheridan, Yellowstone

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Mileage: 23 miles roundtrip | Length: 3 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 900 feet (+ 1,800 as day hike from camp)

This remote region of Yellowstone is teeming with wildlife, rolling meadows, expansive lakes, and geothermal features. So what more could you ask for? Well, when you backpack to the shores of Heart Lake, you won’t want to miss Mount Sheridan. Adding on a summit attempt to an already fantastic hiking trail really elevates this itinerary. This area is so classically Yellowstone that you’ll fall in love with the subtleties, like a pine marten running through the trees, the feeling of the wind as you approach the ridgeline, and the rising steam of the hot springs along Witch Creek.

The Heart Lake Trailhead in Yellowstone National Park is a great jumping-off point for many backpacking trips, including our Heart Lake and Mount Sheridan and Heart Lake/Snake River trips. While they are both great options for a new backpacker, the Heart Lake/Mount Sheridan trip doesn’t require a shuttle, making it easier to execute for non-guided hiking parties.

You’ll set up a basecamp for two days near Heart Lake. There, you’ll get to relax along the lakeshore in the evenings. On your layover day, you’ll hike into the alpine during your summit attempt of Mount Sheridan. If you make it to the top (and even if you don’t), you’ll get sweeping views of the Absaroka Range, the Tetons, and Yellowstone Lake.

The rewards are big for a relatively flat 8-mile hike in to camp. This itinerary gives you plenty of downtime to enjoy the leisurely pleasures of backpacking, while also ensuring you work hard to get a well-rounded experience in Yellowstone.

When it comes to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Yellowstone, into the Tetons and beyond), you’ll have one big safety consideration when backpacking. Grizzly bears. This not-so-small detail is one of the only reasons this isn’t an ideal beginner trip. However, the elevation gain and mileage are very achievable by most beginners. So, if you like the idea of this trip but aren’t keen on hiking in grizzly country, join us on a guided trip and we’ll help you build the skills you need to travel with confidence.

If you do decide to hike in grizzly country without a guide, be sure to read up on safety protocol, hike smart, carry bear spray, and keep a bear-safe camp. You’ll also need to be prepared to hang all of your food at the designated bear hangs in the Park. We’ve written all about in this blog post .

If you want to stay overnight in Yellowstone National Park, you’ll need to obtain a permit . Heart Lake is one of the more popular backpacking destinations in the park, so you should make an advanced reservation. However, permits are also available for walk-ups up to two days before your trip date. If you do decide to chance your trip with a last-minute permit, you should have a backup itinerary in place in case you can’t secure your ideal campsite.

9. Ancient Lakes, Eastern Washington

ancient lakes eastern washington

Mileage: 4 miles out-and-back | Length: 2  days | Elevation Gain/Loss: minimal

If you’re searching for the perfect early-season overnighter, look no further than Ancient Lakes near Quincy, Washington. This desert oasis is close enough to Seattle that you can squeeze in a quick weekend trip even if you only have Saturday and Sunday to play. As you wander among the columnar basalt rocks, you’ll watch waterfalls splash over the edges and create green streaks of life on the walls. Once you arrive at the lake, you’ll find many paths to explore the area. And nearly every campsite you can find has great views of the dark night sky.

Low-mileage and minimal elevation gain make this a great trip for beginners, kids, and the pup. While you do need to pack in all your water, you shouldn’t be deterred because you only have a 2-mile hike to the lake.

logistics and permits’

Pack in all the water you’ll need for your overnight trip! Even though you are hiking to lakes, all of the water is irrigation water from nearby farmlands. Agricultural runoff pollutes these water sources, so you’re better off bringing potable water from home. Also, you may want to avoid this one during the hot summer season. If you do backpack in this area during the summer, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.

You do not need a permit to camp overnight in the Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area. However, you’ll need a Discover Pass to park at the trailhead.

10. Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota

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Mileage: varies (10+ mile one-way)  | Length: varies (2+ days) | Elevation Gain/Loss: varies

We’re not recommending that you hike all 310 miles of this thru-hike for your first backpacking trip (not that we’d stop you…), but the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in Minnesota has many trail sections that you can complete in a weekend or on a three-to-four-day trip. Weave in and out of deciduous forests as you follow the shore of Lake Superior. You’ll cross deep gorges, pass fairytale-esque waterfalls, and even find your fair share of swimming spots. In the autumn, you’ll hike to vistas to see a sea of reds, oranges, and yellows. While the entire trail is stunning, some standout sections are from Caribou Falls State Wayside to Lutsen  and from Two Harbors to Silver Bay .

The SHT hiker’s shuttle makes it easy to customize your route for your timeline and hiking ability, without having to do an out-and-back hike. Just choose one of 50 different trailheads and hike north or south! Most hikers travel from south to north. The trails are well-marked with a blue blaze.

When you’re on the trail, you encounter designated campsites very frequently. So, you never have to hike far to find a place to rest your head (unless you want to pack in the miles!) Additionally, some sections of the trail pass through towns. If you’re considering your first thru-hike or week-long trip, restocking supplies is incredibly easy.

No permits or reservations are required to hike and camp along the SHT. During busy weekends, you may have to share campsites with other hiking parties.

The trail does pass through state parks. In these areas, you can only camp with a reservation and fee. If you don’t want to make reservations, plan your itinerary so you camp in the other numerous campgrounds.

11. Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park

backpacking trips east coast

Mileage: 10 miles roundtrip | Length: 2 – 3 days| Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,700 feet

If you don’t mind the company of other hikers, Glacier Gorge is a fantastic destination for a first backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park . It’s hard to snag a backcountry permit for this coveted area, but if you do, you’ll stay in one of two designated campsites — either in the Glacier Gorge Valley or along Andrews Creek. If you’re staying at Andrews Creek, establish your basecamp and set out on a hike to Sky Pond , a sparkling alpine lake nestled beneath Taylor and Powell Peaks. Spend an extra day exploring the area and head up to Andrews Glacier. If you’re at the Glacier Gorge site, bring a fishing rod and test the waters at Jewel Lake. Or, hike up to Black Lake and Ribbon Falls.

The campsites are relatively close to the trailhead. Once you set up camp, you’ll have opportunities to explore stunning high mountain lake basins without the weight of a heavy pack. Starting from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, you don’t have to gain much elevation to get some pretty impressive views.

You’ll need to reserve a wilderness camping permit if you plan to spend the night in Rocky Mountain National Park. As there are only two designated campsites in this area, the spots fill up quickly. If you plan to fish, you’ll need a valid Colorado fishing license .

In Rocky Mountain National Park, you must carry and store all your food and scented items in a bear canister. This is the only food storage method permitted in this park.

12. Observation Peak Trek, Yellowstone National Park  

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Milage: 10MI / 16KM roundtrip | Length: 2-3 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 1300 ft

If you’re looking for an introduction to backpacking that will have you deep in the backcountry without having to hike for days, then a trek to Observation Peak is an excellent option. In the heartland of wild Yellowstone National Park, this relatively popular trail can be done in 2 or 3 days and gives you some of the most stunning scenery in the park. You can either chose to day hike to Observation Peak with a basecamp at Cascade Lake or include this summit on the first day of your trek before setting up camp. With moderate elevation gain and well maintained trails coupled with stunning lakes and vistas, this trail is one of the best extended weekend options in Yellowstone.  

Why is it Great for a beginner?  

An Observation Peak trek is a great option for first time backpackers as there are so many options for customizing the trip to what you want. Depending on if you are going for 2 or 3 days, you have options to hike to Observation Peak and take in the views, stroll to Grebe Lake and fish for trout, or simply relax at Cascade Lake if you want to rest your legs. Plus, the milage is minimal and doesn’t leave you exhausted by the time you reach camp. This trail is popular enough to make first time backpackers feel comfortable with others around, but doesn’t have so many people as to spoil the wilderness effect.

Logistics and Permits

The biggest logistical concern of hiking in Yellowstone is the wildlife. Grizzly bears are very active in this area and other wildlife such as bison and elk can also pose danger to hikers. This is one of the only downsides to embarking on this trip as an introduction to backpacking. However, with the moderate elevation and easy milage, you’ll be able to prepare for the possible dangers of wildlife and still complete this trip safely. If the wildlife seems like a bit much but the hike sounds appealing, Wildland Trekking offers  this trip in both 2 and 3 day options so that you can get your feet wet before going out there on your own.  

Like everywhere in Yellowstone, permits are required for overnight camping. Yellowstone’s traditional backpacking season is shorter than other national parks, mostly limited to summer, so you’ll want to make advanced reservations to ensure you get the route you want. Walk up permits are available at ranger stations 1 or 2 days before you begin your trek, but they go quickly each morning. It’s a good idea to have a back up itinerary in case you don’t get the permit you want. Permits are included on guided trips

Wildland Trekking offers this trip as an all-inclusive guided hike with meals, gear, transportation, permits, and an expert mountain guide all included. Guided trips are a great way to find out what backpacking is like before getting out there on your own. Click here to learn more!

13. Little Lakes Valley, Inyo National Forest, California  

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Milage: 8-10MI / 13-16KM Roundtrip | Length: 2-3 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 1218 ft  

Just north of Bishop on California’s Highway 395 is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turnoff with one of the Eastern Sierra’s best short distance hiking destinations: Little Lakes Valley. This valley, accessed from Mosquito Flats , is a great destination for a first time backpacking trip. With over a dozen serene alpine lakes, this valley is overflowing with campsite options, day hiking, fishing, and stunning views. While the trail is easily assessable, it’s no overly crowded and with the abundance of campsites, hikers may get an opportunity to have a lake to themselves. Located in the Inyo National Forest, there’s much less competition for permits compared to national park trails, but the scenery is no less spectacular.  

Little Lakes Valley is great for beginner backpackers because of the big bank for your buck (or view for your step) that you get on this short and relatively flat trail. There is some elevation gain on the way into the valley, but that means it’s downhill on the way back! The abundance of lakes and streams make finding water a breeze and the pristine lakes with a back drop of snow capped, jagged peaks is unbeatable. Plus, the trail is easily accessible from Highway 395 and Tom’s Place at the turnoff is a great place to spot at for a burger on the way out!

Logistics for backpacking in Little Lakes Valley are pretty minimal as the short trail is out and back and there is only one access point. Your biggest concern is going to be the elevation as the trailhead is over 10,000 ft above sea level. All backpackers (not just beginners) who don’t live at elevation should spend at least one night (if not two) at a nearby campground that’s around 7,000 to 8,000 ft in order to acclimate to the elevation. Convict Lake is a good, close-by option for this.  

Only attempt this hike in summer and early fall and make sure to check the weather before you go to assess road and snow conditions. Permits are required to spend the night here, but there is much less competition for them compared to national parks. You can make reservations online or get walk up permits at Inyo National Forest’s backcountry permit office.

This is bear country and you will need to use bear resistant containers for all food and smelly items. There are no campfires allowed anywhere in the valley and water collected from lakes and streams should be filtered.  

14. Half Dome, Yosemite National Park  

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Milage: 16MI / 26KM Roundtrip |   Length : 4 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 2845 ft

First, a disclaimer: this trip is hard. Hiking to and up Half Dome is a challenge with large elevation gains and lots of exposure to heights. Beginning with the Mist Trail and ending with hiking the cables , this hike is not to be underestimated. But the views from the top are worth it. While many people do this hike in a single day, backpacking to the base of Half Dome and then summiting in the morning before any day hikers arrive is a great option, allowing you to skip the extremely long and strenuous milage day. It is notoriously difficult to get permits to hike Half Dome, but the backpacking permit is separate from the day hiking permit and will be easier to get.  

So if this trip is so hard, why is it included in this list of best trips for beginner backpackers? Well, beginner trips don’t necessarily mean easy trips. If you are already an avid outdoors person, in good physical condition, and accustomed to hiking, you might want your first backpacking trip to be a bit of a physical (if not a technical or logistical) challenge. In this case, Half Dome may be a great option for you, especially if you’ve already done it as a day hike.  

While the elevation is still hefty even for avid hikers, backpacking to the monolith cuts down the milage to reasonable days, making a backpacking trip arguably easier than a day hike. Of course, you might consider going with a guiding company due to the somewhat technical terrain on the granite and to avoid the hassle of getting permits.  

Hiking Half Dome comes with some logistics to work out. The cables on the last miles of the climb are only up from late May through early October when there won’t be snow and ice on the granite. In addition, you won’t be able to hike on a rainy day (or even a day that is threatening rain) as the granite becomes extremely slippery when wet. Most accidents happen in wet weather. Check the forecast and make sure there are no storms brewing.  

Permits are notoriously difficult to obtain for Half Dome, but backpacking permits are a little bit easier as you are not competing against all the day hikers for a spot. You can reserve permits on the National Park Service’s website.  

The trail is in and back, so you won’t have to worry about transportation if you park your car at the trail head. Remember, this trail is commonly done as a day hike, so don’t expect to have backcountry solitude on this trek.  

Backpacking to Half Dome with a guiding company can be a great way to challenge yourself physically, but have an expert guide to show you the ropes of backpacking before you get out there on your own. We offer this trek as a guided tour for anyone wanting a bit of a challenge with great rewards. All of our trips are all-inclusive with meals, gear, transportation, permits, and an expert mountain guide all included. Click here to learn more!

15. West Rim, Zion National Park

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Milage: 16MI / 27KM Point to Point | Length: 2 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 1700 ft

Beginning far from the gorgeous yet busy canyon that is Zion’s main attraction, the West Rim trail is a scenic, mostly downhill, 2 day backpacking trip that will knock the socks off any first time backpacker. Even seasoned backpackers will be kept interested on this moderate trail with non-stop views of Zion’s majestic red rock canyons and some campsites from which you can see both the sunset and the sunrise. Beginning at Zion’s highest point at Lava Point and hiking down toward the canyon, this trip takes hikers up to the alpine portions of Zion and then down into traversing through the classic canyons. And to top it all off, you’ll end at Scout Lookout with some of the most famous views in the park.  

The West Rim in Zion is a great trip for first time backpackers because it is simply loaded with gorgeous views and isn’t too strenuous. You’ll be able to take leisurely mornings when hiking this trail over two days and if you start at Lava Point, it’s almost entirely downhill! (You will want to bring trekking poles however, all that downhill hiking can be hard on the knees). The elevation and milage are moderate and you simply can’t beat the views down into the canyon. While Zion is known for its crowds, you won’t find this trail overly crowded, giving first time backpackers a chance for some solitude on the trail.  

Zion’s West Rim comes with a few logistical issues, but none that a first time backpacker can’t figure out. The trail is out and back so you will need to either park a car at the end of the trail and drive a second one to the trail head or use a shuttle service. Shuttles can be arranged from town easily.  

Another logistical concern is water. There are seasonal springs along the trail, but the only one that flows year round is Cabin Spring. Water from streams and rivers may be impacted by a recent bacteria bloom that contain cyanotoxins, making the water unsafe for drinking and swimming. Please see the Zion’s official website for current updates on the cyanobacteria bloom.

Permits are required for overnight use and they double as campsite reservations for one of the 9 campsites along the trail. Walkup permits are available, but it’s best to reserve them online to make sure you get the permit you want. Zion has stricter regulations about backpacking compared to other national parks, so make sure to read the trail rules before setting out.

About Hannah Singleton

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Hannah is a content strategist, writer, and guide for Wildland Trekking Company. She was born and raised on the East Coast but currently resides in Salt Lake City, UT where she spends her time exploring the wonders of the Rocky Mountain West. You can check out more of her freelance writing at

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10 of the Best Weekend Backpacking Trips in the US

10 of the Best Weekend Backpacking Trips in the US

Easily one of the best ways to spend a long weekend, regardless of the time of year, is trekking a trail over rocky mountain passes, along breezy coastlines, or in deep, verdant woodlands. Whether you make plans to revisit an old favorite or knock a new one off your bucket list, backpacking always presents a memorable adventure.

From Southeastern classics like Roan Mountain, to New England treasures like a hut-to-hut trip in the Presidentials, to epic and challenging trails in the Tetons, here are some of America's greatest backpacking trips.

1. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

19 miles, 1-2 days, Easy

The view of Grand Portal Point from a distance (along the North Country Trail). Rachel Kramer

Situated in the upper Midwest, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a see-it-to-believe-it sort of landscape with towering sandstone cliffs, impossibly blue lake waters, waterfalls, beaches, and dense woodlands. It also happens to be home to a 42-mile section of the 4,600 mile North Country National Scenic Trail along the south shore of Lake Superior, stretching from Munising, MI, to Grand Marais, MN.

Backcountry camping is available at 14 campgrounds along this 71,400-acre linear park. In the winter, under the right conditions, mammoth ice caves form, attracting thousands of visitors.

The 4.4 miles of the lakeshore path between the Mosquito and Chapel rivers is the most popular section of the North Country Trail. It follows the cliffs through deciduous forest and over sandy sections within view of Grand Portal Point and Lake Superior.

Most hikers start and end their day hikes at Grand Sable Visitor Center on the north end. Further south, the Coves Group to Munising Falls is an ambitious 19.2-mile trek. Yet another option is to start at Munising Falls at the southern end and take a ferry to Grand Island National Recreation Area. A popular marathon and 50K is run around the perimeter of the island in July, switching from clockwise to counter-clockwise year to year.

2. Superior Hiking Trail

18 miles, 1-2 days, Moderate

Taking in the views of Lake Superior Adam Kahtava

The Superior Hiking Trail is a 310-mile long footpath in northeastern Minnesota that follows the ridgeline on the North Coast of Lake Superior.

Most accessible is the 40-mile southernmost section through Jay Cooke State Park to the northern boundary of the city of Duluth. There are no campsites there, and due to flood damage in 2012, parts of this section remain diverted.

To the north, however, is the 18-mile stretch from Silver Bay to Country Road 6 where views of the Big Lake and smaller glacier-scoured lakes are frequently in view through the birch and maple canopy. The colors peak in late September and early October, if you can time your trek then. (Avoid the trail in May and early June, when the clouds of mosquitoes and black flies at their thickest.)

This section of the SHT includes a short but steep climb up Mount Trudee to a 30-foot waterfall on the Baptism River. If you don't catch a glimpse of the deer, wolves, or mountain lions known to inhabit the region (don't worry; they're more afraid of you than you are of them), you may still see their tracks.

Rockier and more technical sections of the SHT are favored by the trail runners who race out of Lutsen, MN, in May (25K and 50K) and September (26.2, 50 and 100 miles).

3. Roan Mountain Highlands

14 miles, 1-2 days, Difficult

The views from these ethereal highlands are stunning and constant, and bring to mind visions of Scotland and Wales. Joe Giordano

Roan Mountain is a 20-mile massif that lies along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. It consists of five sub-peaks, and is divided into two sections by Carvers Gap. To the west of Carvers Gap are Roan High Bluff and Roan High Knob, with Tollhouse Gap and Rhododendron Gardens lying between the two peaks.

A 14-mile section of the Appalachian Trail traverses the Roan Mountain between Carvers Gap and Highway 19E along the northern border of TN and NC. Heading south from 19E, plan to hike 8 miles to the Overmountain Shelter, a.k.a. “The Barn.” Stay inside with other backpackers or pitch your tent in its vicinity. Either way, you’ll be waking to a spectacular sunrise over the valley.

Pack up and trek the final tough 5 miles over three balds. As you approach Carvers Gap, you'll cross Grassy Ridge, the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains.

4. Grayson Highlands State Park

7 miles, copious bouldering, 1-2 days, Moderate to Difficult

Camping among the rhododendrons in Virginia's Grayson Highlands Jake Wheeler

Within southwestern VA lies the Jefferson National Forest. And within the forest lies Grayson Highlands State Park , a gateway to Mount Rogers and to a number of miles along the Appalachian Trail.

To summit Mount Rogers, the state’s highest peak at 5, 729 feet, there’s a 6.7-mile Mount Rogers National Recreation Trail from the Grindstone Campground six miles east of Troutdale. Or take the scenic 2.3-mile Wilburn Ridge Trail from the state park. There are no views from the forested peak, but on either route you’re likely to encounter wild ponies and clusters of exposed and inviting boulders.

In fact, both AT thru hikers and day visitors would do well to check out the bouldering scene in the Grayson Highlands. The Listening Rock Trail offers the most bouldering opportunities, followed by the AVP and Boneyard areas. Climbers take in beautiful top-outs, especially after conquering the Highland Highball, in the Highlands Bouldering Area.

Backcountry camping is not allowed within Grayson Highlands State Park, but camping is allowed in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (MRNRA). Hikers traveling north on the AT exit the park when they cross Big Wilson Creek. You’re welcome to camp across the creek, just past the Wise Shelter fence.

5. Standing Indian, NC

24-mile loop, 1-2 nights, Moderate

The Standing Indian Shelter McDowell Crook

A two-night stay is recommended to fully take in the Standing Indian Loop in NC’s Nantahala National Forest. Fifteen miles of the 24-mile Standing Indian Loop is on the Appalachian Trail, but all of it showcases the Nantahalas’ most impressive and beautiful features.

Knowing you start the trek at 4,000 feet makes the multiple 5,000-foot peaks a little less intimidating. For the AT, the Standing Indian trip is a moderate hike. All the better, as the views along the way are some of the most stunning you'll find in the Smokies.

From the Standing Indian Campground, travel up the Long Branch Trail until it connects with the AT. Mt. Albert is only 5.5 miles from the trailhead, but plan to spend your first night at the summit. In the morning, drink in the panoramic view before descending to Carter Cap, where there's a shelter and water. Expect to spend most of the day walking along a ridge with sweeping views.

Gradually you’ll make your way to the treeless and spectacular peak of Standing Indian itself. There is one small campsite on this bald, so if you want to snag it, you'll need to begin your second day very early in the morning.

On your final day, head back down to the Standing Indian Campground on the 7-mile Kimsey Creek Trail through dense hemlock groves and rhododendron tunnels. Keep in mind that in the early spring months, you’re likely to find snow and ice on this side of the mountain.

6. The Long Trail

23 miles, 2 days, Difficult

Some of the views you'll find along the Long Trail in Vermont Nate Merrill

The Long Trail, the oldest long-distance hiking trail in America, is a 272-mile footpath that follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont stateline to the Canadian border. The Long Trail stretches the length of Vermont and crosses the state’s highest peaks.

It can take nearly three weeks to thru-hike the Long Trail and the 53 mountains (27 of which are 3,500 feet or higher) along it. It can be tackled section by section, too.

One of the toughest sections, the 23 miles from Birch Glen Camp northwest to the Buchanan Shelter, includes 8,000 feet of climbing and descending—including 1,700 feet at a 17 percent grade to the summit of Camels Hump . The exposed scramble over rock slabs pays off with views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west, Mount Washington to the east, and Mount Mansfield to the north.

The descent along the ridgeline bottoms out with a 3.6-mile hike to the outskirts of Jonesville, VT. Stay overnight at the Duckbrook Shelter or wait to camp on the western slopes of Bolton Mountain at the Buchanan Shelter. There are six shelters along this stretch, thanks to the Green Mountain Club which built the trail between 1910 and 1930 and maintains it to this day.

7. Presidential Traverse, NH

23 miles, 1-2 days, Difficult to Moderate

Overlooking the White Mountains of New Hampshire after a strenuous climb Ry Glover

The Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is nearly 23 miles long with close to 9,000 feet of elevation gain. Best hiked from north to south, to bag the highest of 10 peaks first, the traverse demands a dawn-to-dusk effort if you don’t have three to four days to spare.

The traverse is almost entirely above the treeline, where the whiteout conditions are common and can cause one to turn back. Besides the right apparel, a map and compass are essential.

The first day is the toughest, with 4,000 feet to climb over the 3.8-mile Valley Way Trail to the peak of Mt. Madison. Continuing south on the Gulfside Trail, backpackers summit Adams and Jefferson to earn the right to lie down in the grass of Monticello Lawn.

Appreciate the rest, because Mt. Washington—the highest peak in the White Mountains—is next. Expect bad weather before reaching the snack bar at the summit, which tourists reach by road and rail.

From there the climbing is largely over, while the views of the southern Presidential range are not. The Crawford Path, the oldest continually maintained footpath in the U.S., leads to the Lake of the Huts and Mount Monroe. The going only gets easier past mounts Franklin, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

8. Olympic National Park

Mileage varies, 1-3 days, Moderate to Difficult

With roughly 600 miles of trails, there are essentially endless opportunities for backpacking in Olympic National Park David Fulmer

At 1,442 square miles, Washington's Olympic National Park is nearly twice as large as Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and 300 square miles larger than Yosemite. The park has more than 600 miles of sensational trails, the majority of which are designated wilderness by the National Park Service, and 60 miles of craggy and picturesque coastline.

The backpacking options are numerous, but summitting Mt. Olympus, the tallest peak in the park, is a must. A campground within the park’s Hoh Rainforest is open year-round, so stay there and you can also enjoy backpacking the trail to Royal Basin and the Upper Royal Basin beyond where unparalleled views of glacial mountains and tarns await.

Easier hikes, from LaPush to Shi Shi and the popular Ruby Beach, are also often rewarded with whale sightings.

9. Teton Crest Trail

25 miles, 2-4 days, Difficult

Backpacking along Paintbrush Divide, arguably the most scenic stretch along the Teton Crest Trail Brian Saunders

If the Teton Crest Trail is not on your bucket list, it should be. Check it off by taking on the 25-mile section between Death Canyon to Cascade Canyon, and conquer the Alaska Basin and Hurricane Pass in the process.

The Phillips Pass Trailhead, halfway up Teton Pass, is the place to start. Plan to camp at Alaska Basin where a permit is not required because it lies just outside the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.

Return to the park the next day to go up and over Hurricane Pass, and down into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. End your Crest Trail trip there or head up the North Fork of Cascade Canyon to your last campsite. That would give you another day to hike Lake Solitude as well as Paintbrush Divide and Paintbrush Canyon , stopping at the North Jenny Lake parking area.

10. Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park, VA

10 miles, 1 day, Difficult

Breathlessly drinking in the views of Shenandoah National Park David Fulmer

The Old Rag Loop is the most challenging of the more than 500 trail miles within Shenandoah National Park in VA. It may be only 10 miles, but it takes 8 hours to complete, according to the National Park Service. They're not joking.

The most popular way to hike the Old Rag Loop is up the Ridge Trail, across the rock scramble to the summit, than down the Saddle Trail to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

The first two miles of the wooded trail gets increasingly steeper, and the vegetation changes noticeably. Once you're out of the woods onto the ridgetop, the scrambling over giant granite boulders begins. From the summit, you can breathlessly drink in the 200,000-acre expanse of the Shenandoah National Park, a portion of which is federally designated wilderness.

From here it is advisable to take the Saddle Trail, a fire road, back to your vehicle. It's 1.2 miles longer but much flatter and quicker.

Written by Joel Patenaude for RootsRated in partnership with Superfeet.

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    9 Spectacular Early Spring Backpacking Trips You Can Do Right Now

    Already itching to head into the backcountry these overnights are accessible way earlier than the high country classics, with views just as good..

    Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! >","name":"in-content-cta","type":"link"}}'>Download the app .

    It’s spring, and everyone is ready to get outside. The weather is getting warmer (mostly), the snow is melting, and everyone has a closet of brand-new gear they can’t wait to get on the trail. And, luckily for all of us, you don’t have to wait until the flowers start to bloom to get out. These spring trails are ready for a weekend, or a week, away, no wait required.

    Hells Canyon, ID

    Hells Canyon

    • Length: 53.5 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 17,488 feet
    • Route Type: lollipop loop
    • Difficulty: difficult

    Take a week to hike 56 miles through the deepest canyon in North America on this lollipop loop. With over 17,000 feet of elevation gain, it isn’t easy, but the payoff is more than worth it: Ridges, side canyons, and water unfold to the far horizon, with no companions but the elk. The best campsite of the loop comes where Saddle Creek Trail intersects with the Oregon Snake River Trail, deep in the canyon with wild and rocky views all around. Note: don’t get your drinking water from the Snake River, which is very polluted.

    Appalachian Trail, WV

    The view from Weverton Cliffs

    • Length: 11 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 1,460 feet
    • Route Type: out-and-back
    • Difficulty:moderate

    You can’t ditch your rain jacket (hey, it’s spring in the East), but in Harper’s Ferry, where it rains less in April (3.3 inches) than during any month all summer, you might not have to unpack it. Follow the AT north for a steep climb to Ed Garvey Shelter, 6.3 miles from town. Set up a tripod at 800-foot-high Weverton Cliffs, a short blue-blazed side hike one mile south of the shelter, for cherry-picker views of the Potomac River. —Tim Shisler

    Porcupine Mountains Wilderness, MI

    Porcupine Mountains

    • Length: 18.1 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 2,037 feet
    • Route Type: loop
    • Difficulty: moderate

    April melt may raise the Upper Peninsula’s Little Carp River from a lazy trickle into churning whitewater, but you can expect only 2 inches of rain here. Pack gaiters for the 20.2-mile clockwise loop on the Little Carp, Lake Superior, Big Carp, and Correction Line Trails in the heart of the Northwood’s “Porkies.” —Tim Shisler

    Superior Hiking Trail, MN

    hiker along the coast of Lake Superior

    • Length: 29.7 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 3,694 feet
    • Route Type: point-to-point

    The finest lakeside camping in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is along this section from Castle Danger (40 miles NE of Duluth on MN 617) to Beaver Bay. The 29.7-mile trek skirts 130-foot-high cliffs peppered with killer views on Breadloaf and Christmas Tree ridges. Making good time? Explore Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry falls. —Tim Shisler

    Catwalk Trail, Gila National Forest, NM

    Gila National Forest Landscape

    • Length: 4.5 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 695 feet
    • Difficulty: easy

    Follow the aptly named Catwalk Trail down the mile-long, elevated steel walkway from Whitewater Picnic Ground through a volcanic canyon. After a mile, it widens to reveal sycamore and cottonwood groves lining Whitewater Creek, a popular rainbow trout fishing spot. Several shaded campsites surround the Deloche-Winn Canyon Trail junction, just upstream, 2.3 miles from the trailhead. Watch for rattlesnakes sunning themselves. —Tim Shisler

    Golden Stairs Trail, Canyonlands National Park, UT

    Canyonlands National Park

    • Length: 32.4
    • Elevation Gain: 2,148 feet

    Hit this 32.4-mile out-and-back in the Maze District for an ambitious, insiders-only trek through hidden grottos and redrock pinnacles on a, well, maze of faint trails. Start from the Golden Stairs trailhead (4WD only), and hike along the Standing Rock jeep road to Mother and Child Pinnacles. Then head east through Sweet Alice Canyon. —Tim Shisle

    New Hance-Grandview Trails, Grand Canyon, AZ

    Grand Canyon

    • Length: 21 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 10,228 feet
    • Difficulty: very difficult

    In April, spring temps in the Big Ditch are moderate and rainfall averages only an inch. And summer crowds are still months away. Combine the New Hance and Grandview Trails for 21 rough miles of solitude and breathtaking canyon scenery, including Horseshoe Mesa and Cottonwood Creek. The route is unmaintained but easy to follow; campsites have water sources. —Tim Shisler

     Sunol Backpack Area, Ohlone Wilderness, CA

    Sunol / Ohlone Regional Wilderness, California

    • Length: 20.7 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 6,482 feet

    Swap car horns for coyote yips on this 20.7-mile traverse through the heart of the Ohlone Wilderness, 28 miles northeast of San Jose. Its grassy, rolling hills get less than an inch of spring rain, on average. Drop a shuttle car at Del Valley Regional Park, then set off from Sunol Visitors Center. Camp at Sunol Backpack Area and tree-lined Stewart’s Camp. Follow the trail markers with a white oak leaf in a brown circle.—Tim Shisler

    Ventana Double Cone, Big Sur, CA

    Venata Wilderness views

    • Length: 26.1 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 6,018 feet

    Ventana Double Cone hovers 4,853 feet above the jagged Pacific coastline and commands wide-angle views of the Ventana Wilderness and Mt. Pico Blanco. The approach hike, a steep, lung-taxing 15 miles through sword ferns and redwoods, begins at Bottchers Gap Campground. Camp at Little Pines and Lone Pine camps on the way, summit on day three, and retrace your route 15 miles downhill on day four. —Tim Shisler

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    The 10 best backpacking trips for adventurers to take at least once

    Add these spots to your bucket list.

    Malee Oot

    For many backpackers, America’s Triple Crown of Hiking — a title bestowed for completing the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail — is a life-list aspiration. But, beyond the country’s legendary long trails, there are plenty of other iconic treks. From the glacial peaks of the Cascades to the thickly forested foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains, here are a few of the country’s most spectacular backpacking trips .

    The Lost Coast Trail, California

    Greenstone ridge trail, michigan, loyalsock trail, pennsylvania, four pass loop, colorado, outer mountain loop, texas, teton crest trail, wyoming, pemigewasset loop, new hampshire, art loeb trail, north carolina, three sisters loop, oregon, appalachian trail through the mount rogers national recreation area, virginia, when is the best time of year to go on backpacking trips.

    Threading a rugged stretch of coastline devoid of highways, with few signs of human encroachment, northern California’s Lost Coast Trail showcases a region where rugged peaks seem to dissolve into the ocean. The route includes both a 24-mile stretch in the Kings Range National Conservation Area along with a 22-mile section in the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park — but the longer, northern portion is more popular.

    Following a route cradled by the Kings Range and the Pacific Ocean, the trail negotiates stretches of coastline pocked with tidal pools and frequented by northern elephant seals. And, between December and April, gray whales migrating between the Baja Peninsula and summer feeding areas in Arctic waters can be spotted offshore.

    Showcasing one of the most remote national parks in the continental U.S., the Greenstone Ridge Trail traverses the heart of Isle Royale National Park, following the ragged ridgeline that forms the island’s backbone. Along the way, the 42-mile footpath meanders through boreal forests and then skirts moose-browsed lakes and weathered ridgelines, offering photogenic views of Lake Superior.

    • RVing to check out April’s solar eclipse? Check out one of these top camping sites for the best views
    • Take your favorite tipple from town to trail with the best camping flasks
    • Grab your mask and fins, and head to the best snorkeling spots in the U.S.

    Backpackers also have the chance to encounter Isle Royale’s most famous residents — the gray wolves believed to have arrived on the island during the winter of 1948, courtesy of an ice bridge that connected the atoll with the Canadian mainland. And, for a few creature comforts, there are lodging options bookending the trail. At the southwestern end of the island, the Rock Harbor Lodge offers cozy camper cabins , and in Rock Harbor at the trail’s northeastern terminus, the lodge features lakeside rooms and self-catering cottages.

    Rambling through northeastern Pennsylvania’s aptly named Endless Mountains region, the Loyalsock Trail is an idyllic East Coast ramble. Situated almost entirely in Pennsylvania’s 115,000-acre Loyalsock State Forest, the 60-mile footpath meanders through mixed hardwood forests of maple and black cherry, passing celestial overlooks, secluded glens, and more than three dozen cascades, including the 80-foot Angel Falls.

    Near Highland Lake, a portion of the trail also traces the route of the Sheshequin Path, a regional route first used by the area’s Native American inhabitants and later by troops during the American Revolution and resourceful freedom seekers traveling north along the Underground Railroad.

    Just outside Aspen, in Colorado’s Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, the Four Pass Loop is a dazzling Elk Mountain sampler, highlighted by the twin peaks of the Maroon Bells — a dream for landscape photographers. Studded with a conglomeration of four different 14,000-foot summits (also known as 14ers), the 27-mile circuit navigates stands of aspen and ponderosa pine, unearthly alpine passes, and glassy lakes, also offering trekkers the chance to spy burly bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and browsing moose. And in the spring, backpackers are also treated to technicolor meadows bursting with blooming aster, columbine, and lupine.

    Providing a taste of Big Bend National Park’s diverse natural ecosystems, the 30-mile Outer Mountain Loop rambles from the sun-seared lowlands of the Chihuahuan Desert to the fir and pine woodlands of the Chisos Mountains, along a route adorned with biodiversity-rich canyons, soaring mesas, and the bare-bone remains of old ranches.

    Scorching temperatures and shadeless stretches of trail mean the circuit should only be attempted during cooler seasons — and water is always unreliable, so backpackers have to strategically cache provisions for the trek. But, there are plenty of payoffs, too. The protected area is an International Dark Sky Park, and a hotspot for biodiversity, known to harbor more than 400 different bird species.

    A high country ramble without any extreme climbs, the Teton Crest Trail showcases a postcard-worthy landscape overshadowed by ragged, sn0w-glazed peaks. Weaving through Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming, and dipping into the adjacent Jedediah Smith Wilderness and Bridger-Teton National Forest, the trek negotiates mountain passes and unearthly alpine tundra, topping out at 10,700 feet and treating backpackers to an intimate close-up of the rugged granite face of Grand Teton. Beyond the heady landscape, the route also provides ample opportunity to catch a glimpse of the park’s resident megafauna, including moose, elk, and grizzly bears .

    A 31-mile tour of the western corner of the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness , the largest wilderness in New Hampshire, the eponymous Pemigewasset Loop serves up some of the most spectacular scenery in New England, along a route studded with eight high peaks. And, with close to 10,000 feet of total elevation gain, the White Mountain circuit features extensive stretches above treeline, including the iconic Franconia Ridge, a knife-edge crest offering a panorama filled with peaks of the Bonds and the Presidentials.

    For a break from tent camping , the seasonal Galehead Hut , managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club, is situated near the circuit’s midpoint and offers home-cooked meals and cozy bunkhouse accommodations for backpackers.

    Named for hiker and local trailblazer Art Loeb, the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail treats backpackers to an exquisite sampling of western North Carolina’s merging mountain ranges. Stretching from the Davidson River to the flanks Cold Mountain, the namesake for Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel, the footpath snakes through the 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest and the rugged Shining Rock Wilderness. Above the Blue Ridge Parkway, the loftiest portion of the trail strings together four different bald summits, topping out at 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob and offering expansive views extending to the Great Smoky Mountains .

    Just outside Bend, Oregon’s Three Sisters Loop treats backpackers to an eyeful of three of the state’s highest peaks — a trio of glacier-glazed stratovolcanos known as the Three Sisters — all rising to elevations above 10,000 feet. The 50-mile circuit circumnavigates a geologically rich swath of the 281,190-acre Three Sisters Wilderness, the second largest wilderness area in the state, garlanding a landscape etched with alpine lakes, unearthly lava fields, and wildflower-flecked meadows.

    Portions of the route also follow the path of the Pacific Crest Trail, and traverse the Obsidian Limited Entry Area. And while North Sister is extinct and Middle Sister is dormant, South Sister, the youngest of the trio, remains an active volcano.

    In the Appalachian highlands of southwest Virginia, a 60-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail rambles through the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, a 200,000-acre swath of the Jefferson National Forest crowned by the state’s highest peak. Offering a bite-sized portion of Virginia’s 530-mile chunk of the legendary footpath, the 60-mile stretch of trail sluices through the treeless highlands flanking Mount Rogers, traversing alpine meadows grazed by wild ponies, shadowy spruce forests, and icy trout streams.

    For a break from the backcountry, the trail weaves through Grayson Highlands State Park just south of 5,729-foot Mount Rogers — and the hiker-friendly town of Damascus is perched on the southwestern edge of the national recreation area.

    There are a few factors to consider when deciding the best time of year to go on your backpacking adventures. If you’re backpacking in the U.S., then spring (late April to early June) and fall (September to early November) are considered the best backpacking seasons. Summer can be hot and crowded, while winter brings snow and challenging conditions. However, specific regions might have their own variations.

    Here are some additional tips for choosing your backpacking season:

    • Research the specific area you plan to visit to understand its unique climate and seasonal variations.
    • Check the weather forecast before your trip and be prepared for changing conditions.
    • Consider your experience level and choose a season that matches your capabilities.
    • Don’t be afraid to be flexible and adjust your plans based on the latest information.

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    Malee Oot

    For decades, drivers who wanted a light, well-built, and aerodynamic travel trailer had few choices beyond a "silver bullet" Airstream. Thankfully, today's RV manufacturers have started to introduce travel trailers of all sizes for a variety of applications. Looking for a road tripper, overlander, or weekender for a short trip to your next destination? You’re guaranteed to find a camper you'll love.

    That's true even if you’re not interested in a big, fancy RV or the best premium motorhome because ultralight trailers are a great choice. They’re more compact, easier to tow, and more aerodynamic—all of which means they're better on gas too. Here are our top picks for the best ultralight travel trailers on the market, all primed for your adventure.

    Like arguing over sports, religion, and the best type of peanut butter (it’s objectively extra chunky, by the way), declaring the "best hikes" is a recipe for a fistfight. Most avid outdoor lovers have their favorites, and you're not going to persuade them otherwise.

    Still, we’re going to boldly stake our claim to the 10 best hikes in the U.S. across various categories. Hiking season will be upon us soon enough, so it’s time to update your outdoor bucket list. Here are the best hikes worth trekking in 2024.

    Climate and geography are two of the determining factors in finding the next trail to bike through. That's something most bikers would agree on and something beginners to mountain biking should know. Whether you are looking for a muscle-burning climb, an adrenaline-rushing descent, an obstacle-dodging challenge, or heart-pounding speed, you'll find it at one of these top mountain biking destinations, all of which will give you the things you're looking for once your tires hit the trail. Oh! And don’t forget your helmet! And with some of these trails, you’re definitely going to want to wear one.

    Must-see destinations from the saddle Even if you can only do it one time in your life, if you're a gearhead (in the bicycle world) and a lover of nature, you must check off these mountain biking destinations from your list.

    Where the Wild Kids Wander

    Family | Travel | Adventures

    10 Best East Coast Hiking Destinations For Families


    • September 13, 2023
    • Updated February 1, 2024
    • In Hiking Trails , Kentucky , Maryland , National Park Sites , New York , North Carolina , Pennsylvania , Tennessee , Virginia , West Virginia

    Are you looking for some of the best East Coast hiking destinations to visit with kids? We’ve got you covered!

    We love hiking! And bringing the kids along makes it even more fun. They enjoy exploring nature, climbing rocks, and great views as much as we do.

    We’ve been on some fantastic trips where hiking was the main focus. And we had a blast! Some of our favorites include Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and the Finger Lakes in New York .

    There are so many great hiking trails on the east coast, but not all of them are family-friendly. And even though we can’t wait to try them out with the kids when they are older, we’ll stick to ones that we can do as a family now.

    The guide below shares the best places to hike with kids on the east coast, other activities at each destination, and some recommendations on where to stay.

    So, grab your sense of adventure and start planning a trip to one of these best east coast hiking destinations. You won’t be disappointed!

    Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, we may receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

    Prepare for Your East Coast Hikes

    It’s always best to be prepared for any hike. This is what we recommend for these east coast hikes:

    • Shoes : The trails below can be rocky and steep. As always, we recommend sturdy  hiking boots  or  trail sn e akers .
    • Water Bottles: No matter how short the hike is, you’ll always want a water bottle on hand, especially in the hotter months.
    • Bug Spray and Sunscreen : Mosquitoes and gnats can be in full force, depending on the time of year. A good  insect repellant  will make the hike more pleasant.
    • Clothing : When hiking, you’ll want to dress in layers. Usually, it’s cooler in the mornings, but you’ll heat up as you walk along. Wearing t-shirts under light-weight zip-up sweatshirts is ideal in the spring and fall.
    • Snacks or Picnic Lunch : Depending on which trails you choose and time of day, you’ll want to have a few snacks or even a lunch ready to eat!
    • Hand sanitizer / Hand Wipes:  You never know when you need to wipe down! Especially before eating.
    • Bandages : Isn’t it inevitable that someone will fall and scrape a knee on a rock? It’s always good to have some bandages or even a small first aid kit on hand.
    • Backpack: To carry everything in. Need I say more? I prefer one with side pockets to hold the water bottles and a front pocket to hold the wipes and bandages . But you can use whatever you own.
    • Detailed Map: Most of the below hiking destination have well-signed trails. However, it’s always good to have a map of the area before you visit, especially if cell-service is not good.

    Be a Responsible Visitor

    Remember as you visit these east coast hiking destinations to respect nature. Stay on established paths, pack out your trash (including food waste), and leave what you find behind.

    The more popular these destinations become, the more we need to be diligent about keeping our parks and lands clean and safe for all. You can learn more  here .

    Best Family-Friendly East Coast Hiking Destinations

    1. catskills, new york.

    The Catskills in New York is a great family-friendly east coast hiking destination. The region offers a variety of kid-friendly trails that promise both fun and great views.

    Best Hikes in the Catskills

    One must-do hike is to  Kaaterskill Falls , a 260-foot waterfall your little ones will love splashing around at the base. There are over 400 steps down to the bottom, so keep that in mind when planning your hike. You can always view the waterfall from the observation platform.

    Kaaterskill Falls full waterfall on Kaaterskill Falls hike

    Another fun hike for families is Sunset Rock, where you can enjoy gorgeous views of the Catskill Mountains.

    backpacking trips east coast

    The short and moderate trail makes it an ideal choice for young hikers. The summit is the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch or snacks. It makes a  great sunset hike , too!

    Other Things to Do in the Catskills.

    There are plenty of other  things to do in the Catskills  if you want to take a break from hiking. We enjoyed visiting the Saugerties Lighthouse and exploring Opus40. There are also many places to ski nearby .

    backpacking trips east coast

    Where to Stay in the Catskills

    We recommend this  beautiful Vrbo in Hunter, NY , right at Hunter Mountain. The location is quiet, with mountain views, but close enough to many popular attractions.

    The area has limited hotels ,  so try some of the  home rentals  in towns like Hunter, Tannersville, and Saugerties.

    2. The Finger Lakes, New York

    Hiking in the Finger Lakes region of New York is a fantastic adventure for young families looking to connect with nature.

    Best Hikes in the Finger Lakes

    Two must-visit spots for a memorable outdoor experience are Watkins Glen Gorge Trail and Taughannock Falls. They are two of the best waterfall hikes in the Finger Lakes.

    The Watkins Glen Gorge Trail is a fun, relatively easy trail that takes you by (and under) dozens of waterfalls. The trail is just over a mile long. Visitors can take the trail back to the start, take the rim trail, or pay for a shuttle ride.

    waterfall hikes in the finger lakes - watkins glen gorge trail

    Taughannock Falls is a short and easy hike to the viewing area, making it accessible for all ages. Kids will love splashing around at the base of the 215-foot waterfall! You can even drive up to overlook to get a different view.

    waterfall hikes in the finger lakes - buttermilk falls gorge trail (2)

    Another fun hike is Buttermilk Falls . In the summer, the natural pool at the base of the falls is open for swimming. It’s such a fun way to cool off after your hike.

    Visitor Tip: The gorge trails in the Finger Lakes are usually closed from early November through mid-May due to snow/ice on the trail, so make sure you plan your trip when they are open!

    Other Things to Do in the Finger Lakes

    There are so many fun  things to do in the Finger Lakes ! Right near Taughannock Falls is the gorgeous Cayuga Nature Center with a six-story treehouse.

    backpacking trips east coast

    And, of course, you don’t want to miss the  Corning Museum of Glass.  It’s a science museum, history museum, and art museum all in one.

    🤩 We love the Corning Museum of Glass

    Where to Stay in the Finger Lakes

    The  Inn at Taughannock Falls  is right next to Cayuga Lake, within walking distance to the Taughannock Falls trail, and close to the Cayuga Nature Center and attractions in Ithaca. They offer several room options, from hotel rooms to private cottages.

    There are also several major hotel chains in Ithaca , close to many of the fun hikes in the Finger Lakes.

    3. Poconos, Pennsylvania

    The Poconos in Pennsylvania is a great hiking destination for families on the East Coast thanks to the many state parks, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and the Appalachian Trail running through the area.

    Best Hikes in the Poconos

    There are so many great hikes in the Poconos it’s hard to choose only a few to highlight.

    However, we love the  waterfall trails  at the Delaware Water Gap, like Raymondskill Falls and Hackers Falls. Both can be done in one day and start from the same parking area.

    backpacking trips east coast

    For more waterfall hikes,  Bushkill Falls  can’t be beaten. The trails are well-maintained, and there are other things to do, like gem mining, on-site.

    Hiking the Bushkill Falls trails - bridal veil falls

    Lastly, Hickory Run State Park has some of our  favorite hiking trails in the Poconos , like Shades of Death and the Boulder Field Trail.

    Other Things to Do in the Poconos

    The Poconos offers so many fun things to do . Some of our favorites include visiting Jim Thorpe and riding the  Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway in the fall .

    backpacking trips east coast

    Visiting an indoor waterpark like  Camelback’s Aquatopia  is another fun way to expend energy without worrying about the weather.

    And for more outdoor fun,  paintball games  are always a good time.

    Where to Stay in the Poconos

    There are tons of family-friendly resorts to stay at in the Poconos . The  Shawnee Inn & Gold Resort  is close to the Delaware Water Gap and offers many fun things to do at the resort.

    The  Woodloch Lodge  offers all-inclusive options and fun included activities like boating, archery, and snow tubing.

    4. C&O Canal National Historical Park, Maryland

    C&O Canal National Historical Park is a perfect east coast hiking destination for young families to explore. There are many things to do, including biking, hiking, and enjoying the gorgeous Great Falls of the Potomac River. It’s also perfect for a day trip hike from DC.

    Visitor Tip : The entrance fee to C&O Canal NHP is $20 per car. However, you can enter for FREE with your America the Beautiful Park Pass or the Every Kid Outdoors Pass.

    Best Hikes at C&O Canal National Historical Park

    One of the most popular trails at C&O Canal NHP is the Olmstead Island Bridges trail, also known as the  Great Falls Trail .

    It’s an easy, accessible trail that is a 1/2-mile out-and-back. However, you must walk about a 1/2 mile to and from the parking lot along the towpath, which makes the total trail length 1.5 miles.

    backpacking trips east coast

    The  Billy Goat Trail Section A  is a must-do for those feeling a bit more adventurous. This trail is rated difficult and requires a lot of rock scrambling, which includes a 50-foot ascent climb on a cliff.

    backpacking trips east coast

    The Billy Goat Trail Section A is a lot of fun but may not be suitable for younger kids or inexperienced hikers.

    Other Things to Do at C&O Canal National Historical Park

    In addition to hiking, visitors of C&O Canal NHP can enjoy biking along the towpath. You can actually bike into Washington, DC, 16 miles away! And during the summer months, the National Park Service offers  boat rides along the canal .

    The C&O Canal is a short drive into  Washington, DC , where you can enjoy many of the  FREE museums and attractions  in the city. Or you could visit  Arlington Cemetery.

    Where to Stay Near C&O Canal National Historical Park

    Not too far from C&O Canal NHP, you’ll find plenty of hotel options in Bethesda, Maryland. The Embassy Suites offers two-room suites with made-to-order breakfast and nightly manager’s reception. And the Hilton Garden Inn is across the street from a park and playground, which is always nice when you’re traveling with kids!

    5. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

    Harpers Ferry  is a fantastic hiking destination on the East Coast for young families, thanks to the Appalachian Trail running through the historic town.

    Best Hiking Trails in Harpers Ferry

    One of the best hiking trails near Harpers Ferry is the Maryland Heights Trail. The 4.5-mile out-and-back trail is moderately difficult and leads to a gorgeous overlook of both the town and the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

    things to do in harpers ferry -maryland heights overlook

    Another great trail near Harpers Ferry is the Loudon Heights Trail. At 6 miles long, it’s a bit longer than Maryland Heights, but it’s about the same difficulty. The overlook gives you a different perspective of the town and rivers.

    Of course, you can also hike part of the Appalachian Trail that goes through town. It leads to the Jefferson Rock and more views of the Shenandoah River.

    Other Things to Do in Harpers Ferry

    Harpers Ferry  is a fun town with historic buildings and fascinating museums run by the National Park Service. It’s easy to spend a day exploring the town before you embark on any hikes.

    things to do in harpers ferry - Antietam Burnside bridge

    Nearby, you can  tour the Antietam Battlefield . The battle is known as the single bloodiest day in American history, where more than 22,000 soldiers were killed or wounded.

    Visitor Tip : Both Harpers Ferry and Antietam Battlefield have fees for entry. However, you can enter for FREE with your America the Beautiful Park Pass or the Every Kid Outdoors Pass.

    Where to Stay Near Harpers Ferry

    There are several  places to sta y in Harpers Ferry  if you want to stay in town. This will keep you within walking distance of the trails and fun shops and cafes.

    However, if you want to stay at your favorite hotel chain, you’ll want to stay in nearby  Charles Town .

    We stayed at the  Hampton Inn in Charles Town  and had a great experience. It was close to several restaurants and had a grocery store next door. Perfect for picking up last-minute hiking snacks.

    6. Coopers Rock State Forest, West Virginia

    Coopers Rock State Forest is a perfect destination for families looking for fun hikes they can do with young kids.

    Best Hikes at Coopers Rock State Forest

    The main draw to Coopers Rock is  Coopers Rock Overlook . It’s a short, easy trail leading to a beautiful overlook of the Cheat River Gorge and the surrounding area. The path to the overlook features one of the “Almost Heaven” swings, so don’t forget to grab a photo!

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    The 1.5-mile Rattlesnake/Rock City Loop is fun for kids and parents alike. This scenic trail takes you around massive boulders that feel like a rock maze. Although it is relatively easy, there are some steep sections and rocky parts that some might find tricky to navigate.

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    Lastly, the Ravens Rocks trail is another popular hike that leads to a gorgeous view. The 2.5-mile out-and-back trail is considered moderate but with some steep sections.

    Other Things to Do Near Coopers Rock State Forest

    Coopers Rock is near Morgantown, West Virginia, a bustling college town with plenty of things to do. Start with the  West Virginia Botanic Garden  or the  Core Arboretum  for more outdoor fun.

    Afterward, explore the history of Morgantown with a  walking tour  or a visit to the  Morgantown History Museum .

    Where to Stay Near Coopers Rock State Forest

    Coopers Rock State Forest has two campgrounds on-site. One is suitable for RVs, while the other offers primitive tent camping.

    There are also several  hotel options in Morgantown . We enjoyed our stay at the  Hampton Inn & Suites Morgantown / University Town Centre .

    7. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

    Of all the east coast hiking destinations on this list, Shenandoah National Park is probably the most popular. In fact, it’s one of the best East Coast locations for a family vacation .

    Shenandoah National Park is a HUGE park. Skyline Drive, the main road through the park, is just over 100 miles. Driving through the whole park can take three hours, minimum.

    The hikes we share below focus on the middle section of the park. However, there are some really excellent trails in the other areas of the park, too, including some easy hikes that are family-friendly!

    Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

    We loved hiking the  Dark Hollow Falls Trail . This 1.4-mile out-and-back trail leads to several waterfalls. The only downside to the trail is the elevation change! It’s a pretty steep trail that descends from the trailhead, so you must walk back up at the end.

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    Another must-visit trail is the Hawksbill Mountain Trail, which leads to the highest peak in the park. It’s a moderately challenging mile to the summit (and then back down again), but it’s worth it to look out over the endless Blue Ridge Mountains.

    Other Things to Do Near Shenandoah National Park

    There are so many  things to do in the Shenandoah Valley ! We love all of the caves you can visit near the park, like Shenandoah Caverns and Luray Caverns .

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    There are also fun things to do at Massanutten Resort, like skiing and snow tubing during the winter months and enjoying the waterpark all year round.

    Charlottesville  is also fun to visit, especially  Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello .

    Where to Stay Near Shenandoah National Park

    There are campsites at the Big Meadows Campground, which is close to the Dark Hollow Falls Trailhead. There is also a  lodge at Big Meadows .

    Outside the park, you’ll find some nice  hotels in Luray  and  home rentals in Elkton .

    Visitor Tip : The National Park Service charges an entry fee for Shenandoah National Park. However, you can enter for FREE with your America the Beautiful Park Pass or the Every Kid Outdoors Pass.

    8. Red River Gorge, Kentucky

    The Red River Gorge in Kentucky is a vast geological area encompassing more than 29,000 acres and over 100 natural stone arches, making it a fantastic east coast hiking destination.

    Best Hikes in Red River Gorge

    It’s hard to narrow it down, but if we had to choose some of the best hikes in Red River Gorge , the Original Trail at Natural Bridge State Resort Park would be a top choice. It’s only .75 miles from the parking lot to the base of the bridge. But of course, you’ll want to climb to the top and take the Laurel Ridge Trail to the bridge overlook.

    View of Grays Arch from below

    Another fantastic hiking trail in Red River Gorge is Gray’s Arch . It’s a 2.5-mile out-and-back trail that starts off easy and gets more difficult as you reach the arch. At 80 feet across and 50 feet high, Gray’s Arch is one of the largest in Red River Gorge.

    As one of the most popular waterfall trails in Red River Gorge, you don’t want to miss Rock Bridge Trail to Creation Falls . The 1.5-mile trail is on the easy side of moderate and lead to a fun waterfall and the only natural arch that spans water in Red River Gorge.

    Other Things to Do in Red River Gorge

    Red River Gorge offers plenty of other outdoor and nature-based activities. One of the best  things to do in Red River Gorge  is the Gorge Underground , where you can kayak or take a boat tour through an abandoned mine.

    best things to do in red river gorge - view of water in underground mine while seated in boat

    Other fun things to do include zip lining, bouldering, and boating on the Red River itself.

    Where to Stay in Red River Gorge

    Natural Bridge State Resort Park  has a lodge and cabins for rent. They are close to the Original Trail and the other trails at the park. In addition, guests of the lodge can use the pool for FREE.

    Otherwise, there are many  cabins and home rentals  available in the area.

    9. Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

    If you’re looking for a fun hiking destination in North Carolina, you can’t beat  Grandfather Mountain  in Linville.

    This privately run park has some great hiking trails, a nature center, and the famous mile-high swinging bridge. Plus, it’s right near the Blue Ridge Parkway, giving you plenty of hiking trails in the area.

    Visitor Tip: Grandfather Mountain charges admission for entry to the park, but it’s worth the price for everything that is included.

    Best Hikes at Grandfather Mountain

    The  Grandfather Trail Loop  hike is 1.5 miles long and is on the easy side of moderate. The trail is rocky and can be steep in sections, but overall, it’s a fun trail that offers some lovely views.

    The main reason many people choose to hike at Grandfather Mountain is the  Grandfather Trail to Calloway Peak . It’s a challenging 5-mile out-and-back trail incorporating ladders and ropes to ascend over large boulders.

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    You can shorten the trail to a 2-mile loop if you head to MacRae Peak and then take the Underwood Trail back.

    Other Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain

    You can’t visit Grandfather Mountain without crossing the  mile-high swinging bridge ! The 228-foot-long bridge is only 80 feet above the ground, but it’s a mile high in elevation, giving you gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains.

    backpacking trips east coast

    Grandfather Mountain also has a nature center that is included with admission to the park. Kids and adults can learn more about the mountain, animals, plant life, and geology. There are over a dozen interactive exhibits inside the center, as well as a botanical garden outside.

    🤩 Try this self-guided driving tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway

    Where to Stay Near Grandfather Mountain

    There are some beautiful hotels and resorts in  Blowing Rock, NC , a short drive from Grandfather Mountain.

    Sugar Mountain  is a popular resort area with plenty of  condos and townhomes for rent . Some even have views of Grandfather Mountain.

    If you’d like a more traditional hotel, the  Best Western at Banner Elk  is only 20 minutes from Grandfather Mountain and includes FREE breakfast

    10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

    The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the United States! Thanks to its beautiful vistas and waterfall trails, it’s also one of the best east coast hiking destinations, including Clingmans Dome , the highest point in Tennessee.

    🤩 Check out this self-guided driving tour of GSMNP

    Best Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    There are plenty of trails to choose from in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

    One of the most popular trails is the hike to  Clingmans Dome . Even though it’s a paved trail, the incline makes it a moderate trail. Thankfully, there are benches along the path for rest breaks.

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    Laurel Falls is a famous waterfall trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The 2.3-mile trail is an easy hike leading to an 80-foot waterfall. This is an excellent trail to do with young kids.

    Lastly, the Alum Cave Trail is a moderately complex trail that may be best for families with older kids. This 4.4-mile hike brings you past Arch Rock and Inspiration Point before reaching the Alum Cave Bluffs.

    Visitor Tip: The National Park Service started charging parking fees in 2023 for Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Learn more about the fees here .

    Other Things to Do Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park is right next to Gatlinburg, a fun town with plenty of  family-friendly things to do . One of the best things to do in Gatlinburg is take a scenic chairlift ride to  Anakeesta . There are several activities, shops, and dining options up there.

    backpacking trips east coast

    Other fun activities near the Great Smoky Mountains NP include a  mountain coaster ,  zip lining , and Dollywood Amusement Park. There is something for everyone!

    Where to Stay Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Like other National Parks, camping is allowed at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are  ten campgrounds in the park  where you can drive your car or RV to the campsite. These campgrounds only offer cold water bathrooms with flush toilets. There are no showers in the park.

    Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina, are the two closest towns to the park entrances.

    Gatlinburg has many  hotel options in town , with the  Hampton Inn  just down the road from the park. We had a great stay at  Bent Creek Golf Village , about 25 minutes from the park. The resort rooms offer full kitchens with multiple sleeping spaces.

    Cherokee is a little quieter than Gatlinburg. However, plenty of pleasant motels, like the  Rivers Edge Motel , have family suites and water views. The  Fairfield Inn and Suites  is also a good option with a FREE breakfast and indoor pool.

    Final Thoughts: Best East Coast Hiking Destinations

    Hiking with kids is not just about reaching the summit but creating lasting memories and fostering a love for the great outdoors. And these fun east coast hikes will do all that and more (we hope!).

    Whether you’re exploring the beauty of the  Catskills over a long weekend  or planning a  fall getaway to Shenandoah National Park , your family will surely enjoy your time together.

    So, pack your bags, lace up those hiking boots, and take off on these unforgettable trips with your little ones. The world is their playground, and every trail is a new chapter waiting to be written in the book of family adventures.

    Read It Now. Pin It For Later!

    We have hiked all over the east coast with our kids and have made tons of great memories! These are some of the best east coast hiking destinations we've experienced and we think your family will love them too!

    Lauren is the visionary behind Where the Wild Kids Wander. She is a travel enthusiast who lives outside of Philadelphia. For more than a decade, she's been hitting the road, exploring the nooks and crannies of the United States alongside her family. Her passions include visiting big cities and small towns and trekking through nature's trails. She loves sharing those adventures with fellow travelers.


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